7 steps to create great KPI dashboards

Creating a KPI dashboard can seem like a daunting task to some.  To others it may seem simple enough at first, but it can quickly become cumbersome once all of the requirements are gathered.  It can also be very difficult to design a dashboard that drives real business performance.  The process outlined here can help ensure that your dashboard is built efficiently and effectively while also pushing business performance.

1 - Start with why

A dashboard is a means to an end.  It is important to start with why.  Meet with the end users to understand what they hope to gain from the dashboard.  What business result will they improve by using the dashboard?  

Starting with why establishes a great framework and mental space for the end users and the analyst. 

2 - Sketch a wire-frame

An example of a wire-frame.  Yes it is ok if it is this ugly!

An example of a wire-frame.  Yes it is ok if it is this ugly!

Sketch a wire-frame with the end users to truly understand the requirements.  This can be done on a whiteboard, piece of paper or even a napkin.  What data points would they like to see and where should they be presented?  Where should the filters be?  Is there color coding needed?  Try to get the end user to explain what they’d really like to see. 

A wire-frame sketch doesn’t need to be artistic.  It can and should literally be a hand drawn sketch.

3 - One version of the truth

Now that we’ve created the wireframe it is time to start gathering the actual data that will be used.  For the dashboard to be truly effective we cannot overlook the need for accurate data.  Ensure that every data point is accurate with your standard definitions.

A dashboard that is not aligned with your one version of the truth will fail.

4 – Prototype

Build a prototype of the sketch with real world data.  Do not spend time automating it.  Our goal here is to have a rough working copy of the report that is tangible for the end user.  A working prototype allows us to test the design and compare the data points with context.

5 - Test for usability

Test the dashboard’s usability with the end users.  The way that filtering, color coding, and data placement was described on the sketch may be misinterpreted or may even change.  The end user will need to test the prototype before you can produce a finished product.

Take any changes needed and develop a new prototype.  Repeat this prototype and testing procedure until the end user is happy with the end product. 

6 - Plan and implement distribution

Gather the distribution requirements and build the finished product.  Different users may have different distribution requirements.  Build the distribution to ensure maximum use. 

A dashboard that is not used is a wasteful drain on your limited resources.

7 - Establish a contingency plan

An effective contingency plan should describe what to do if the dashboard breaks, if data definitions change, when to have periodic reviews, and cover any other predictable failure modes.

Following this seven step process for creating KPI dashboards will help ensure that the report is efficient and effective as well as ensuring that it helps drive your business forward.