When it comes to building dashboards for business executives, there are many ways to approach the project; but after helping more than 200 companies turn their data into growth, we feel that we have found the best process.
The way that we approach all of our executive dashboard projects is an iterative process like the following:
Before you ever begin building anything, it’s important to scope out the project and get clarity from all stakeholders.
We begin by identifying the needs of the dashboard consumer, in this case, your executive team. We have found that the best way to build actionable dashboards for executives is a process that we like to call Metrics Mapping.
This process helps to ensure that you choose needle-moving metrics to include in your executive dashboard, as opposed to just vanity metrics.
Metrics Mapping is actually a very simple process, and helps you gain clarity in what you need to track and how to use the data once you have it.
Step one of Metrics Mapping is defining your goals. As you can see in the example below, this company wanted to double their revenue year over year.
From there, you need to figure out what questions you need answered in order to attain that goal. In this case, they needed to know what their best traffic sources were.
Once you know the questions that you need to answer, it’s time to figure out what metrics can help you answer those questions. In this case, they may want to figure out the average order value by source, the lifetime value of the clients from each traffic source, the conversion rates for each of their funnel stages, conversion rate by landing page, allowable CPAs, and channel profitability.
The next step is deciding on a source of truth for each of those metrics. You can find conversion rates through Google Analytics goals, enhanced ecommerce tracking, or event tracking. Lifetime values and average order values can be calculated through ecommerce platforms. Allowable CPAs need to be calculated for your business based on margins, COGS, and LTV. And finally, you can find channel profitability by tracking your CPAs, LTV, and COGS.
From there, you want to validate the data across as many sources as possible and make sure that your sources of truth align. Then you can begin the process of applying your calculations and loading it into a data visualization tool.
If you find that you’re missing metrics or data that you need during Metrics Mapping, take note of those metrics, as that will play an important role later in the process of building out your executive KPI dashboards.
Revisiting our dashboard building process, once we have completed Metrics Mapping, we then want to review our findings and plans, get final buy-in from the executives, and prioritize the dashboards and KPIs that we’re going to build.
From there, we need to choose a BI platform that best suits the needs of what we’re going to build, and finalize our timelines and roadmap to completion.
That finally leads us into our build phase, which is pretty self-explanatory. Once the build is complete, we want to then move into the iteration and optimization phase of the process.
The easiest way to start that process is to go back to the metrics that you wanted to include in the dashboard but weren’t able to.
From there, we like to map out those KPIs on a grid, like the one below. We first rank the KPIs on a score of business impact. How much will these metrics move the needle for your business?
We then look at what it would take in order to get good data around those KPIs. What technologies would you need to implement in order to track that properly? What changes or updates could you make in order to gather that data?
That gives us the feasibility score. From there, it’s simply a question of charting out where each metric falls on our grid of feasibility.
Obviously the metrics in the top right quadrant are the top priority for our next build phase; from there, we can move into the top left quadrant, and then finally the bottom right quadrant.
The next thing to look at when building an executive reporting dashboard is whether you want to report on leading indicators or lagging indicators.
Put simply, lead indicators drive the lag indicators. In sales, a lagging indicator would be revenue, or number of sales. Salespeople really don't have direct control over how many sales that they make in a day, but they do have control over their leading indicator: how many calls they make that day. Content marketers don't have direct control over how many website visits they get in a day, but they do have control over how many blog posts or emails they write.
When it comes to executive reporting dashboards, they will most likely want to see reports focused on lagging indicators. The reason for this is that they don’t necessarily care how much work went into something, but rather what the end result of that effort was.
If you’re looking to build impactful executive dashboards, we have an ebook that documents the top 5 KPIs that every executive dashboard should have as outlined by our CEO and CGO, also known as their “Desert Island Metrics”; as well as a myriad of other tips on how to make your data more actionable.
If you’re looking for more direct help building actionable dashboards for your executive team, you can schedule a call with one of our data experts and they can review your business and data needs and help you build out a data roadmap.