The process of creating an effective dashboard application is always collaborative, at least that's what I've discovered in my years of working closely with clients to deliver dashboard solutions.
One common approach to dashboard creation consists of BI professionals collaborating with their IT team and looking at the project from the data slant: "This is the data we have, what kind of business metrics can we get out of it?" After involvement with countless dashboard projects, I've found fault with this line of thinking - to me, it's backward or upside down. When you look at the data first, you risk choosing an incorrect delivery platform for your organization, one that may not address the needs of the end users. After all, if your dashboard's end user can't decipher the data, your project has failed.
I believe a more successful approach is to start by collaborating with stakeholders and ask: "What reports or information do you want the end user to see?" When you consider your end user’s needs first, you go some way toward determining your dashboard solution's success in the end.
However, interaction with end users is just the start of the process. This article will focus on the main stakeholders and personnel who are necessary to ensure the success of a dashboard initiative. It is not a definitive guide to all possible things to consider, nor will it tell you how to organize a dashboard program. Rather, it highlights the people involved, the roles they play and the common things they should consider. Since I have served a functional part in each group, I can offer a sense of the big picture.
From my experience, the major groups of people involved in the dashboard-creation task are:
- End users
- Business analysts (BAs)
- The database team (DB team)
- The IT team
- The project manager (while not a group, this position is important)
Although some would argue the database team should be part of the IT team, I prefer to separate them as the units serve two distinct functional roles in this type of project. For each group, I will go into detail about their responsibilities and interaction with the other groups. I consider this an effective way to create awareness of critical areas for consideration as well as clarify who needs to be involved in addressing them.
The End Users
The end users are those who will be using these dashboards on a frequent basis. The group usually consists of C-level management, data analysts and any other person who needs to get a summary of various business metrics. From a dashboard designer's perspective, it is important to understand what metrics matter most to end users and how they use the information, because the point of the project is to make sure the result is making their lives easier.
Occasionally, detailed reports already exist within the organization. These will give insight on what business metrics are relevant to the end user; however, they should be used only as a reference point and not replicated. Keep in mind that sometimes these reports help the end user to do more work, as they may apply their own formulas to the data or filtering data so it’s easier to manage. The dashboard solution should take these needs into consideration and give the end user the power to look at the raw data and the ability to automatically apply their analyses of the data.
If there are no existing reports to use as a reference, it is prudent for the business analyst and/or technologist to set up interviews with the end users, and this is a good practice in any case as it identifies core technical requirements. Here are some common questions that are part of the interview process:
- If you had to pick your top 10 (this is an arbitrary number) business metrics, what would they be?
The answers to this question help to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) and the supporting business metrics behind them. If the end users had their way, they would likely ask to see everything, which would break the traditional definition of a dashboard.
- How do these business metrics enable you to make informed decisions?
It is important to understand how the end user is employing this data. The dashboard will help identify critical conditions by issuing alerts when a value hits a certain target or falls below a threshold. In addition, the way the end user manages the data gives insight into how he/she thinks about their business metrics, and represents essential input that is factored into the collaborative process.
- How frequently do you need this data to be updated?
This answer identifies whether the data needs to be updated in real time, near real time or at a larger fixed interval. This information also lends itself to decision making in the configuration and deployment of the underlying data warehouse driving the dashboard.
- How sensitive is the information you are viewing and who else may view what parts of it?
This identifies the level of security needed for a dashboard. There may be certain dashboards that only specific individuals may see. Alternatively, other dashboards may be accessible by everyone, such as a corporate dashboard that shows top-line sales metrics.
- Will you be using these dashboards in presentations or reports, like annual shareholder reports?
This answer helps identify the need for exporting and printing the dashboards.