Best Practice for Executive Dashboard Design

Jim Sun

Dashboard is not a new technology, now more and more companies are using various of BI tools to visualize their enterprise data, executive managers and company stakeholders are attracted deeply to the charming graphs and charts. But some dashboards may not be designed properly, either from functional or technical perspective. And note that a successful dashboard is nothing about technical showing off, but about delivering the right information in right format to the right person. So in this post, I will present some of the best practices of dashboard design for different categories of audiences.

Before even start designing a custom dashboard, the first thing to consider is your audience, in most organizations, main users of dashboard are as following:

  • Stakeholders: they are too busy to check every figure on a dashboard, and they are not likely familiar with web application or any technical knowledge related to your dashboard
  • Executive managers: CXOs need to keep their eye on high-level executive dashboard more often than stakeholders do, and they need more KPIs to better understand the status of whole company. Also, COO and CFO may have different preferences on KPI selection.
  • Department Directors: they care more about their own department, and they need more types of KPIs in their department dashboard.
  • IT Director, manager, and BAs: this is tricky because actually IT guys are not direct users of these dashboards, but they do use dashboard for testing and performance improving purposes.

As dashboard designers, we are telling stories to our audiences and need to make sure that they want to buy our story, that is why we need to understand the requirement and define KPI of each audience and tell him/her the story he/she cares about.

  • For stakeholders: they only need the most aggregated values, such as sales, GM and some other key figures depending on different industries, so the designer needs to have deep understanding on the industry and be very selective with KPIs. Also, since stakeholders may not be familiar with the interface or any other technical things, the design of dashboard should be as easy to use as possible.
  • For CXOs: CFOs are interested in financial figures, such as NI and ROA. COOs are interested in inventory level and lead time. In a word, CXOs need more detailed data than stakeholders do. Also they may need to keep track of company status in a timely manner, so it would be cost-efficient if dashboards could be automatically created within given amount of time.
  • For department director: they only care about their own department, so the KPI should be as complete as possible.
  • For IT guys: for those testing dashboards, real business KPIs are not the key KPIs in testing dashboard, but performance KPIs are important. For example, time spent to generate queries, formats and other KPIs could influence "customer experience" should be.

In summary, the main purpose of the dashboards is to paint picture for its audience. To capture the attention of the audience, we have to create effective KPI Dashboard and KPI Reporting.