How to Manage Business Operations Using Dashboards

January 6th, 2021
Two a business professionals writing on clipboard with an overlay of charts and graphs

Let's say that you are reviewing the previous year’s performance of your organization or division. When you start diving deeper into the data, you realize that there are areas where things could have been done differently for better results. Or maybe you can see where things went wrong.

It’s natural to ask yourself, ‘how could I have seen this in time?’ All the data was likely available during the course of the year, but not in a format that enabled easy access and interpretation for you. But in the future, you can overcome this challenge and benefit from having insights from data if you set up an effective management dashboard for your goals. 

A dashboard is a visual information management tool that enables you to track relevant data points and key performance indicators (KPIs) at a glance. Dashboards are extremely useful tools to help business managers understand what is going on so that they can make sound decisions and take swift action.

Dashboards usually include graphs or other visualization elements such as dials, counters etc. As the volume and velocity of data production explode, business leaders are practically drowning in data, but unable to see important and relevant insights. A dashboard solves this problem by presenting the most relevant metrics and indicators in a visual format that is convenient to absorb and use. While the dashboard may provide a very high-level view, it is possible for users to dig deeper and explore specific areas of interest within the data. 

We can develop dashboards for different levels of management and for all functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations, HR, customer service, etc. 

Benefits of business KPI dashboards

A well-designed dashboard helps business leaders to see the right way forward. It tracks performance against targets and KPIs, highlighting both successes and failures. 

As dashboards make it easier to access, understand, and interpret data, they enable the organization to respond dynamically to market trends and its own performance. Leaders can ask the right questions and further explore relevant data to enhance performance in all areas of business operations.

The right dashboards foster team collaboration - as they clearly show shared objectives,  relationships, and how each one is contributing to the whole. Employees become familiar with dashboards and can see how their efforts contribute to the team and organizational goals. Business analysis dashboards also ensure that different stakeholders are viewing and interpreting data in the same manner. 

How to set up business dashboards

Business KPI dashboards must be correctly designed so that they will deliver the benefits mentioned above. Let's look at the steps to set up dashboards.

1. Clarity about user and needs

Who is the audience of the dashboard that you are creating? Are they senior management, functional managers, or team members? Are you creating this for a specific department such as sales, marketing, customer support, procurement, accounting, etc.? Is your audience seeking strategic or operational insights? Senior leadership may need to see the bigger picture, possibly ratios, and indexes, whereas functional managers may need to see more details.

Once you have understood the audience profile and their objectives, you need to identify what data to display on the dashboard. It's essential to include the key indicators that will help them track their goals.

For a CEO or sales head focused on growing sales by 25%,  the dashboard must help them track the actions that will lead to this result. Possibly this might include website leads, inquiries from dealers, and time taken to close sales.

An HR head who wants to enhance employee performance and satisfaction may like to see employee engagement survey data and attrition - by location, function, manager, etc.

The dashboard will display high-level indicators to be seen at glance and understood easily. You will provide ways for managers to examine what they need to in detail.  But the dashboard itself should consist of the most critical indicators that will fit conveniently on one screen.

Some of the best dashboards start out by displaying just one KPI and then adding more over time when there is better clarity over information needs. This approach is preferable over trying to give everyone everything on day one and ending up with an overwhelming but less useful dashboard.

2. Use the right time frames

Is it critical for your users to get very recent or real-time data on the dashboard? Or do they need to see trends over time, so daily, weekly or monthly data is needed? If decisions are being made based on the past seven days’ data, then don't try to fit previous years on the same dashboard, as this will confuse users.

3. Follow current visual design principles

Visually your dashboard should be clean and not cluttered so that the data stands out clearly. Graphs and visualizations must display the legend clearly.

It's also a good idea to display a timestamp of when the data was last refreshed so that viewers know they are looking at current information.

The types of visualizations that you use, colors, and shapes go a long way in enabling your users to easily understand and appreciate insights.

A cluttered dashboard leaves the audience feeling overwhelmed and confused as to what are trying they to understand and what action to take. On the other hand, a well-designed dashboard enables users to work in a data-driven manner, and take the right action quickly.

4. Make your dashboards interactive

If the dashboard has interactive functionality, then managers can modify the view, change parameters, and dig deeper into aspects that they would like to explore. Features such as hovers, drill-downs, filters prove to be very helpful. They increase the dashboard’s usefulness and enable the audience to engage more deeply with data based on their specific objectives. If users notice any anomalies or outliers, they can explore the reasons further.  

5. Design for mobile

Many users will likely view your dashboard on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. On a smaller display screen, it becomes even more crucial that the dashboard is clear and uncluttered. Don't expect your users to scroll a lot on a mobile device. If you believe that most of your users will be using a mobile device most of the time, you should design primarily for a small screen. 

6. Integrate data from multiple sources

Managers often require data from multiple sources that may be internal or external to the company. A marketing manager may like to see the performance of campaigns on Google ads, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the sales leads with the sales teams. You should pull data from various systems into one dashboard that will best equip the manager to analyze and take the right action. 

7. Assign ownership

A dashboard that is built and launched with fanfare but not maintained can end up becoming irrelevant. To avoid this, make sure there are data governance policies in place with assigned ownership of the dashboard and responsible for ensuring that it remains accurate and up to date.

A key indicator of high performing dashboards will be their ability to help you absorb large amounts of data into actionable insights that enables impactful decision making.

When it comes to the expertise required to set up effective dashboards, you can reach out to your data analytics platform vendor. For example, the experts at InsightOut will help you define your dashboard needs, manage implementation, and train your teams to ensure success.

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