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Dundas Data Visualization’s best practices methodology for dashboard design

by Alexander Chiang, www.dundas.comWednesday, July 9, 2008

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Dundas Data Visualization’s best practices methodology for dashboard design

Whether or not organizations have internal IT expertise, when it comes to identifying what dashboard solution is best and whether to choose an out-of-the-box solution versus one that is custom built, there is still great confusion due to the plethora of solutions available. According to Alexander Chiang, Consulting Services Manager at Dundas Consulting, part of how to determine whether to select an off-the-shelf solution or one that is custom built involves identifying when the dashboard needs to be delivered and the degree of customization required. Based on these two factors, it becomes possible to determine the more beneficial path towards the successful deployment of an executive dashboard. If initial deployment time is sensitive, development consultants may be better trained to meet tight deadlines. Additionally, the ability to customize an executive dashboard with the specific requirements of the end user can be easily achieved by experts, whereas out-of-the-box dashboards may not offer the flexibility required by the organization.

Because Dundas Consulting’s expertise lies in dashboard design, their best practices methodology takes into account all aspects of development to ensure that the use of dashboards is aligned to an organization’s metrics and business performance. Their methodology provides a general framework of how to design and implement data visualization tools and can give organizations the insight needed to determine whether having a highly customized solution versus one that is out-of-the-box best suits their business requirements.

Dashboard Design Methodology

The following methodology is used by Dundas Consulting to ensure that custom built dashboards designed for customers meet the business needs of the organization and put the processes in place to enable ongoing dashboard maintenance, both on a technical level and through data stewardship.

Step 1: Business Pain Identification

The first step to designing any dashboard is to identify what problem is being solved through dashboard use. Questions such as

  • What factors exist that are inhibiting the meeting or exceeding of set goals,
  • Is business being run as efficiently as possible,
  • What are the business pains being encountered,

are asked to identify what issue the dashboard will be solving. In addition to detecting what problem will be solved through the use of the dashboard, who will use it is also determined. This becomes essential to the overall design process because different information may be required based on role within the organization, thereby requiring more or less detailed information.

Step 2: Defining Metrics

Metrics definition involves determining the indicators within the organization that are measured and maintained against set goals. Within each department metrics will differ and in many cases there may exist a hierarchy of metric or key performance indicators (KPIs). This means that one set of metrics will make up a part of another. For instance, a sales manager may be monitoring sales by region or product, whereas a C-level executive will want an overall view of how general sales are performing with the ability to drill through information to identify discrepancies in performance based on specified factors.

Step 3: Identifying Filters

The next step is to identify the required filters. This means choosing the parameters to determine what information will be included or excluded within a dashboard, such as dates for trends based data, etc. Within sales this may involve product based on region, sales over time, or monitoring the performance of employees to measure success and relate performance to compensation packages. To use dashboards effectively, the information displayed has to be filtered. Otherwise, there would be no way to identify how the organization is meeting or exceeding defined goals through metrics.

Step 4: Data Responsibility

Once the information is classified and goals defined, data sources are identified and responsibilities assigned. The concepts of data governance and data stewardship offer the best response to assigning data ownership. The ability to manage and to maintain data quality, common definitions, and relationships help ensure the validity of the data being reflected in the dashboard. The resource responsible for the data should know where the data resides, the rules surrounding that data (how it relates to other information within the organization), and its validity. In some cases, this will be someone from IT, but in other cases it may be someone from the business side. In either case, maintaining a constant standard of data quality is important, as the benefit of the dashboard is only as good as the metrics it manages. If the data represented in the dashboard is inaccurate, then the dashboard itself becomes useless.

Step 5: Prototype and Proof of Concept

The development of a prototype enables future users to review the look and feel and to provide feedback on the overall design. The addition of live data affords the ability to test for accuracy and to ensure that metrics have been properly defined. Generally, this is an iterative process, whereby the dashboard is tweaked until the end user is fully satisfied with the look and feel of the dashboard.

Step 6: Implementation

The final phase involves the installation of the dashboard and a final connection to the live data. This process is the final stage, but still has to take into account the IT infrastructure that already exists within the organization. Additionally, final feedback is given regarding the dashboard to make sure that no aspects were overlooked.

Dashboard Customization

Data visualization applications have become the link to bringing strategic information to decision makers. By creating visual cues with gauges and stop lights to identify performance measures, organizations can identify both macro and micro level metrics that enable better planning, analysis, and action related to strategic planning and overall performance. The methodology above highlights how Dundas Consulting enables organizations to achieve these results through dashboard design.

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