Dashboard Theory and Design

Where to begin?

So you have access to data that you want to use to help you make better decisions and keep an eye on your organization. Or maybe you need to make a dashboard for someone else? No problem. You need to begin by identifying the audience, context, purpose and goals of the dashboard, and most importantly, the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be tracked and visualized in the dashboard. Of course, this all depends on what data you have access to. But let's begin with the context.

The context of the dashboard, generally speaking, will be one of three types: operational, strategic, or analytical. Operational dashboards are used to evaluate the current status of the business processes and resources that support those processes. For example, are the information systems, servers, or machinery running and at what capacity? At what cost? At what efficiency? Operational dashboards make use of counts and percentages and MUST be updated with real-time data. Strategic dashboards indicate various organizational health metrics. These include profits, losses, and important financial ratios. Strategic dashboards also need up-to-date data; but not quite as up-to-date as the operational dashboards need to be. Finally, analytical dashboards offer a variety of drill-down capabilities and a broad range of data sorting and filtering options. These are used for general research and the user often doesn't know exaclty what they are looking for other than general insights into problems and opportunities. Analytical dashboards do not need to be updated nearly as often as operational and strategic dashboards.

Once you understand the purpose and context of the dashboard, it is time to identify key performance indicators and other relevant measures that will be included in the dashboard. So let's review the characteristics if high quality measures