these facts can seem daunting to
anyone embarking on a much-needed BI dashboard project.
But you aren’t a statistic,
you’re a company.
So, If you don’t have a BI strategy and want one, your path doesn’t have to lead you to the “failure” side of the curve. Of course, like any good journey, there’s preparation to be done to ensure you make it to the success side.
At Yahara, we’ve guided many companies along the right route to creating the visualizations they need in the timeframe they need it. Time and time again, we’ve realized that certain key elements can make or break a dashboard project.
We always start with the same questions to set our clients on the road to success:
Who will use it?
Is it for your CEO? Or is it for your workforce? Or do you need one for each? The first question on our list is a big one, because it determines the type of data you need and the type of visualizations you want to build. Top tier executive dashboards focus on big picture data collation. Executives will want to be able to look at trends across multiple sections of the company and quickly synthesize that data. By contrast, frontline managers and employees will want data specific to their tasks. They’ll want to be able to drill down and closely monitor the processes and the data the pertain to their success. Bonus tip: While you’re gathering information about who needs what dashboards, this is a good time to ensure you have buy in from all levels of the organization. Even if the dashboard ends up being more for one level than another, you’ll want to be sure that the right people are excited and on board to ensure the project is a success . Studies show that of companies that have successfully implemented analytics in a way that significantly impacts business results, 59% have a CXO champion.
What questions will you answer?
Once you’ve figured out who your target audience, the next step is to hone in on the questions they need answered. Be as specific as possible. Dashboards are just viewing tools for data, and data is concrete, so you need to be too. Before beginning any development, the key is to make sure that you already know what metrics you want to report on and have agreement across the organization that they are important and accurate for you business. Otherwise you’ll just end up with a pretty way to view useless trends. In fact, this aspect of the project is so important that a whopping 64% of decision makers have trouble getting the answers they need from a completed dashboard project because the questions they want to ask don’t fit the metrics they have available.
Where is the data?
Knowing who and what is certainly half the battle, but only half. Populating your dashboard typically involves herding your metaphorical data cats into an easily accessible structure. If you are lucky enough that all your data currently lives in one database, or multiple databases with a defined and cohesive architecture, then pulling the data you need into the dashboard will likely be relatively straightforward. More often, the data you need is living in different places, maintained by different people, and contained in disparate formats. If this is the case, you need to consider your data organization and integration needs before beginning a dashboarding project.
What is your minimum viable dashboard?
At this point, you’ve gathered information on everyone that will want a dashboard, all the different ways in which they will want to use it, all the places the data will come from, and all the different formats your data comes in. If you are like most businesses, the project is starting to look like a three headed monster that you can’t possibly complete on time or in budget. But never fear, the point of gathering all that information was so that you could winnow it down to the top priorities. In other words, based on what you now know about your needs, what is the least amount of effort needed to start getting value out of your dashboarding project? Many companies make the mistake of trying to create a comprehensive solution right off the bat, only to find that the project runs out of time or funding before they actually get to use it. It can be difficult to choose the priorities, but starting with the minimum offers a number of advantages:
1. You get to test the product before it is fully built, allowing you to make changes before development is complete,
saving you time and money.
2. You get to see how users actually interact with the dashboard. Maybe they use it exactly as you expected, but more often than not, they don’t. They might have great ideas about how adding minimum functionality could provide maximum ROI.
3. You start getting out value out of your project months or even years sooner than you would if you waited for the full solution to be built.
What is the project timeframe and budget?
This question goes hand in hand with the question above, because once you have the minimum product in hand, chances are you and your users are going to want more. Knowing what the full budget will be as well as what an appropriate timeline for development and roll out can be tricky, but without knowing the answers, projects can quickly balloon above budget or lag behind deadlines. You want to make sure you are spending money where it counts and delivering the product as fast as possible. At the same time, a dashboard that doesn’t answer a business need because it doesn’t have enough features or the right features, or one that gets rolled out so fast it’s too buggy to use, won’t help you either. To combat this dilemma, we typically recommend a phased approach for larger projects. Once you get the MVP in hand, you’ll probably want to take some time to play with it before beginning the next phase. A little bit of planning at the beginning of the development cycle can save a lot of headaches and reworking later. A phased approach allows you time to reset, regroup, and reprioritize before spending more money and time.
Bonus question: Who will maintain the dashboard?
You’ve got your dashboards up and running and everyone is using them and happy. Awesome job! But software, like the office ficus, needs care and attention every once in a while to flourish. Many projects start off great but fail to take into account the need to maintain software once it is out in the world. Be sure you have a plan for who will maintain your dashboards so that you don’t make it a few months in and end up abandoning the project when the leaves start to wilt.
Feeling a little lost in the woods?
Having trouble answering any of the questions?
Have more questions after reading this list?
Yahara software has over 20 years experience helping companies just like yours create meaningful software that enhances their business. We’re experts in determining workflows, pinpointing data needs, and creating dynamic visualization platforms that put your data where you need it, at your fingertips. We'd love to help you reach your business goals.
Words by Abbey Vangeloff
Images by Sandi Schwert