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How to create actionable business and project dashboards

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Business or project dashboards play a crucial role in improving decision-making, enhancing performance and gaining a competitive edge in today's business landscape. A business or project dashboard is a visual representation of key performance indicators (KPIs) and critical data that provides a real-time or near-real-time snapshot of a business's performance and various aspects of its operations.  

Business/project dashboards are typically displayed on a single screen or web page, making it easy for users which can include business leaders and managers, to quickly and easily access and interpret important information. They are a tool for monitoring, analyzing and managing the performance and health of an organization, a business unit or a project. 

Why business and project managers need good dashboards 

There are three key reasons why businesses and leaders need business dashboards: 

1. Informed decision-making: 

  • Data visualization: dashboards provide visual representations of key data, making it easier to understand complex information and identify trends. 
  • Real-time monitoring: dashboards display data in real-time, enabling quick responses to changes and issues. 
  • Goal tracking: dashboards help set and track goals and measure progress toward targets. 
  • Data integration: they consolidate data from various sources for a holistic view, supporting data-driven decisions. 
  • Forecasting: some dashboards offer predictive analytics, aiding in forecasting and proactive decision-making. 

2. Performance management: 

  • Performance evaluation: dashboards enable leaders to assess department, team, and individual performance. 
  • Cost reduction: automation and data centralization reduce the time and resources needed for reporting. 
  • Employee engagement: sharing dashboards with employees motivates them to work toward common goals. 
  • Customer insights: customer-related data informs marketing strategies and product/service improvements. 

3. Competitive advantage and risk management: 

  • Competitive advantage: dashboards facilitate quick responses to market changes and customer demands, giving a competitive edge. 
  • Compliance and risk management: they help maintain compliance and manage operational risks. 
  • Collaboration: dashboards foster collaboration and alignment within the organization. 
  • Customisation: dashboards can be tailored to display industry-specific metrics and data, ensuring focus on critical areas. 

Creating an effective business dashboard that not only informs, but also drives action can be a challenging task for many managers. Traditional dashboard software often focuses on the technical aspects of creating dashboards, but what's often missing is the strategic blueprint behind them. 

Selecting the most appropriate KPIs for the dashboards 

Creating an effective business dashboard that not only informs but also drives action can be a challenging task for many managers. Traditional dashboard software often focuses on the technical aspects of creating dashboards, but what's often missing is the strategic blueprint behind them. 

One of the key best practices embraced by successful organizations is the identification of essential Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or parameters that are crucial for monitoring business performance. These KPIs should be presented in a way that simplifies complex analytics, making them intuitive to follow. As a leader, you need a structured approach to dashboard development. 

Two types of metrics for dashboards 

To create a holistic view, one of the best practices is to concentrate on two types of metrics: input metrics and output metrics. 

Input metrics:

Input metrics encompass factors like the production status of digital assets for device use, infrastructure enhancements such as connectivity and speed improvements, the number of devices ordered and activated, and the count of employees who received training. These metrics collectively paint a picture of the operational state necessary to execute the strategy. 

Output metrics: 

On the other hand, output metrics gauge the actual impact generated by these devices in the field. These include metrics like the reduction in resolution time, improvements in customer satisfaction scores and cost reductions attributed to error reduction. These output metrics provide insights into the impact created by the overall strategy. 

How correctly designed dashboards support decision making 

Let me share a real-world example from a project I consulted with a hi-tech company, which involved company-wide implementation of hundreds of mixed reality devices among their field employees. The strategic objective was to enhance customer service while reducing operational expenses to serve these customers. Part of the game was to equip employees with devices, training, developing digital assets to use in the devices, encouraging usage and then monitoring how it generates favorable improvements. 

Initially, the project team compiled numerous charts based on available data, focusing on metrics such as device utilization, number of assets created, number of hours devices used and number of employees using them, including tracking the compliance for targeted processes where employees were expected to use these devices. While this data informed day-to-day operations and actions, it lacked a cohesive narrative to drive strategic decision-making. 

By creating separate dashboards for input and output metrics, the project team was able to communicate both operational and strategic progress effectively. This approach enabled them to make informed decisions by identifying whether improvements were needed on the input side or the output side of the metrics. 

With a well-defined blueprint, you can manage your business operations with a minimal but highly impactful set of dashboards. If you have clear blueprints, some of these dashboards can even be created using simpler software tools rather than investing in elaborate data analytics platforms. 


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