I recently came across a good Tableau white paper entitled “10 Best Practices for Building Effective Dashboards” by Ellen Nadelhoffer, Senior Technical Writer at Tableau. (You can find it here https://www.tableau.com/asset/building-effective-dashboards-core)

It got me thinking…did that track with my own experiences building business dashboards for my own customers?

It’s one thing to build a business dashboard, but it’s another thing to build an effective business dashboard. The secret lies in where you start and how you embrace two key principles.

Start with the end (user) in mind

What are dashboards, really? They are just business tools. Like any tool, they are intended for people to use and do their jobs in a new and better way.

How do your people do their jobs today? What’s hard? What’s time consuming? What’s error prone? What’s wasteful? How does a lack of information prevent them from doing their job better/faster/cheaper? Once you know that, can you create dashboards that deliver the information they need to make better decisions and take right action. Until you know that, you don’t have a target to aim at or a reason to start building dashboards.

As it regards the central topic of effectiveness, we need to understand that effectiveness requires adoption. And adoption involves change. Change is made best when change is made easy via simplicity and relevance.

Principle #1: Simplicity

Complexity is the enemy of successful change and adoption. The best way to maximize the probability that your people will not resist change is to create simple dashboards for them to learn to use.

How do you get a killer whale to jump out of a tank of water and over a bar 10 feet in the air? You first get that killer whale to swim over that bar at the bottom of the tank.

I’ve seen (and yes, at times, built) dashboards that are packed full of tables, charts, KPIs and other visual widgets. And I’ve rarely seen those dashboards embraced by the people they were built for, if they were actually built for any specific people at all. No value accrues to an organization where time and money is spent building data structures and dashboards that no one uses or understands. Building dashboards driven by the availability of data in your business, or features of your BI tool, won’t be simple by the time those dashboards get in front of the people you want and expect to use them.

Principle #2: Relevance

At the end of day, the core purpose of a business dashboard is to answer a question for a person or group of persons. There’s nothing interesting, engaging or useful about dashboard that answers Question “A” when shown to a group of people whose job function is such that they need an answer to Question “B”. It doesn’t matter how “cool” your data model and calculations are, or how many fancy widgets you have on your page. If it’s not relevant to someone, you haven’t achieved anything of business value.

Have you ever tried to sell something to someone that doesn’t have a problem you solve? How far did you get? How’d that turn out?

Relevance is the single more important principle to embrace at the outset of building any business dashboard. No relevance, no engagement. No engagement means no change. People don’t spend time on something for which they see no value or “WIIFM”.

Why do simplicity and relevance matter?

Because without people actually using business dashboards built for them, your organization will never capture the bottom line value from new and better decisions to take right action based on new and better information. This negates and invalidates whatever business case was made to spend money on your BI tool in the first place. As it regards capturing value, how you plan for and manage the change your people experience will matter just as much as how you plan for and manage the technological change of introducing BI tools and dashboards.

Looking Ahead

If you’ve already built and deployed business dashboards with your organization’s BI tool, consider the question of effectiveness, and how you measure it. The good news is that you can absolutely course correct with a little help.

If you are just getting started, start right. Start with the end (user) in mind.