6 Mistakes To Avoid When Building Dashboards For Entire Company

Data-driven decision processes are the new trend, have you noticed? The development is amplified even more by the COVID crisis as businesses have to assess how to survive the economic slowdown. To do that, many have turned to their BI analyst to better understand all aspects of their business—and its health.

If that’s you: congrats! That means you are now starting a huge project: building reporting for your entire organization. Based on my experience as a BI analyst, and having led and completed multi-tenants’ projects, let me give you some pointers about the mistakes to avoid if you’re aiming for productive efficiency and happy stakeholders.

To oversimplify, we could summarize the following mistakes under the heading: “Don’t forget to organize everything!” OK. That was easy! Now, let’s dig into the details.

Mistake #1: Don’t have a plan

Initial planning is highly important, so you can know where you’re going. Find out:

  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What do they want to monitor?
  • How many dashboards do they need/want? (It’s likely these are not the same!)
  • Which dashboards take priority?
  • When do these dashboards need to be delivered?
  • Are there any existing tools or dashboards already in use?

Mistake #2: Failing to gather essential requirements

Start to gather inputs!

  • Contact the head of each department in your organization and set up a requirements meeting. Use the meeting to gather information about how they work, what KPIs they use for monitoring, and what data they need to make decisions both in their day-to-day work and for the overall department’s strategy.
  • Get inputs from the leadership team, as well. They are probably your primary stakeholder. Working for this team will be the most complex, as they will want to see bits and pieces of the KPIs from all the departments.
  • A good practice is to define an “owner” for each dashboard (or dashboard part) for final validation. But, do involve all dashboard users (or one representative per user-type) in the initial requirements phase.
  • With everyone together, discuss what KPIs they need, how they should be broken down, and how they would like to visualize them.

Mistake #3: Don’t define a comprehensive list of dashboards

Once you have an initial list of dashboards, take time to analyze all the requirements, and create a list of the KPIs that have been requested so you can get the bigger picture perspective. For example, you might discover that some KPIs, such as financial overviews, are being requested by multiple departments and stakeholders.

Think about how you can aggregate common asks into one place.

Don’t try to handle similar (but different) KPIs across multiple dashboards. Any time a change is made on one widget, you will have to apply it to others as well. Or maybe not? This is a foreseeable human fail trap!

Have a second round of meetings to present your dashboards plan and get agreement from all stakeholders on it.

Mistake #4: Don’t have a shared understanding of the project

Make sure alignment on the project is met at several levels:

  • Share your dashboards plan with all stakeholders. Use a collaborative tool to make sure each person will always see the latest updated version of your plan when you make adjustments.
  • Each dashboard stakeholder should know how, when, and who will use the dashboard they are responsible for. They will be their dashboards’ ambassador.
  • Make sure that the people who will help you with tasks such as data access and data validation know that you will need their involvement and have time to work with you.

Mistake #5: Don’t define each visualization in detail before building dashboards

Set up a requirement checklist to capture the following inputs from your stakeholder:

  • Widget title
  • Widget description
  • Widget type
  • Data source
  • Layout such as dimensions
  • Calculations to be made
  • Filters to apply
  • Design items such as icons, color palette, canvas size, preferred display screen

Then, take a drawing tool that you’re comfortable with—PowerPoint, PaintShop, or even a blank sheet of paper and a pencil (and an eraser!) or whatever. Set up a mock-up of each dashboard and present it to stakeholders and users. This will help trigger conversations that you might not have thought of, such as:

  • Do we need a dropdown here?
  • What time granularity are we looking for?
  • Which KPIs or visualizations take priority?

Once you get an agreement for the mock-ups, you are ready to start building your dashboards and can get them signed off quite efficiently.

Mistake #6: Don’t identify who has the knowledge to validate each type of data

Once your dashboards are built, it is validation time! Make sure you have access to the right people who can validate the accuracy of the data for and with you.

On a business scorecard dashboard, you will probably build visualizations across multiple areas of the business, such as marketing, finance, operations, and sales. Make sure you have the contacts in all those departments to do the necessary validation.

Plan for the time that you’ll need to run through all of the visualizations and calculations, and the time needed to correct and fine-tune your dashboard. You will need it!

Summary

Of course, each project has its own dynamic and challenges, but I hope the six mistakes have helped you think about your project from a macro perspective. The last thing you want is to spend time working on a dashboard that doesn’t get used.

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