Here are 26 dashboard report best practices to help you make sense of your data. Understand the key principles and examples of precise dashboard-making.
Dashboard reports put the "Intelligence" in Business Intelligence (BI).
Rather than dealing with a swirl of numbers over spreadsheets, dashboards provide stakeholders with a clearer, more actionable view of their data.
But just like anything in the business world, you need efficiency and a strategic approach to make the most out of dashboard reports.
This post highlights 26 dashboard report best practices to improve your data management.
Let's get started.
Dashboard reports use visualizations and structured data formats to enhance the visibility of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Common components of dashboard reports are charts, pivot tables, timelines, and KPI summaries.
Some reports also incorporate interactive elements to help decision-makers turn data into actionable strategies—without needing several pages of extra data. This and other data visualization capabilities are available using data management and BI platforms like Polymer.
Apart from making in-depth business data more readable, a BI dashboard comes with the following benefits:
Set goals that are not only Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, but also enable Evaluation and Re-adjustment.
SMART goals provide teams with a clear and actionable direction, which must generate results within a specific timeframe.
SMARTER goals, on the other hand, are regularly evaluated to ensure success. This is followed by a re-adjustment period that helps teams stay on track.
Setting SMARTER goals is a crucial prerequisite to BI dashboard reporting. It allows business leaders to define relevant KPIs and decide the best tracking methods.
Before building your dashboard, decide the KPIs you need to track. This allows data stakeholders to focus on the numbers that actually matter.
KPIs are high-level metrics that measure the success of business goals and activities.
Unlike raw metrics, a well-structured KPI comes with the following components:
One example of a commonly-tracked KPI is Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR). It measures the revenue you expect from customers on a monthly basis.
MRR helps subscription-based companies and service providers secure a healthy cash flow and track overall business health. To calculate this, multiply your current active customers by your Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).
Other examples of KPIs you can track in your BI dashboard are:
Build a list of the data stakeholders who will use your dashboard reports. This is crucial when deciding which KPIs to include, dashboard types to use, features to include, etc.
Here are some examples of stakeholders who depend on dashboard reports:
While you can use generic dashboards for different branches of your business, knowing your exact stakeholders lets you optimize certain aspects of your reports.
For example, if you're creating a marketing dashboard for your social media team, leave out KPIs outside of their scope. Instead, focus on actionable KPIs that will drive your social media campaigns forward—like audience growth rate, social visitors conversion rate, and amplification rate.
Expand your knowledge of the different dashboard types to create reports tailored to stakeholders.
To give you an idea, below is a quick rundown of the different dashboard types:
Understanding the different dashboard types lets you pick the perfect dashboard structure for your goals.
Of course, every dashboard is customizable and can be repurposed to suit your specific needs. If you still need ideas, look at how data management platforms and other brands structure their dashboards.
Inspect real-world dashboard examples to learn proven strategies that work for similar brands.
The internet is filled with practical dashboard examples used by real companies. You can scour the web for examples using search engines or check out built-in examples from your data management platform.
For example, Polymer comes with sample data sets and reports built with the best dashboard reporting practices in mind.
Each example data set from Polymer comes with sample "views," which generate an interactive visual dashboard.
Data sets are presented using the best data visualization tools for faster, better decision-making. Visualizations are also interactive—allowing users to access multiple layers of data without opening multiple report pages.
It’s crucial to choose a data management platform that can address all your dashboard reporting needs.
Consider your choice based on three important factors:
When investing in dashboard reporting software, factor in your stakeholders' points of access.
A lot of business leaders overlook the aspect of accessibility when it comes to dashboard reports. For example, some dashboard software may work fine on Windows—but have compatibility issues with other platforms like iPadOS, ChromeOS, or macOS.
Don't forget about stakeholders who access their mobile devices more frequently than laptops or desktops.
Even if the app interface itself isn't available on mobile devices, it should be able to export mobile-friendly dashboard reports.
The fastest way to build BI dashboard reports is to use pre-built templates with customizable data and elements.
Spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets support hundreds of dashboard templates for different reporting needs. The same can be said for numerous data management software with built-in templates.
Then, platforms like Polymer take a smart approach by providing AI-based suggestions for your dashboard. This helps you build custom dashboards based on your needs rather than what templates already have.
Some KPIs can be combined and rolled over into one visualization or report section. Others are better shown by themselves for clarity.
In dashboard reporting solutions, grouping KPIs also makes it easier to keep related data together while rearranging your dashboard.
To make your dashboard as organized as possible, identify the KPIs that can be grouped. This includes KPIs that relate to the same activity, objective, or team.
Help stakeholders make sense of your KPI groups by adding clear headers and subheaders.
Tools like Polymer's block-based editor let you add titles to data visualizations. You may also add rich text blocks to create headers for KPI groups.
Always use the data visualization type that best represents your KPIs.
Using the wrong chart will only obscure data or cause misinterpretations—defeating the purpose of building visual dashboards.
Here's a quick look at the common data visualization types and their uses:
Ensure charts and tables have clear legends and labels to help users read the data.
In addition, use paragraphs to give users more context on visualizations.
Without enough context, stakeholders will find it difficult to connect the numbers with performance. This will keep them from identifying when to make adjustments where needed.
When putting together your dashboard, add your most important KPIs above the fold. This is at the very top of the report, which is immediately visible to users upon access.
Most companies have a handful of KPIs with the most impact on business health.
For example, SaaS businesses need to track their MRR and free trial registrations. Retailers and eCommerce businesses, on the other hand, need to prioritize conversion rate, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), and Average Order Value (AOV).
Remember to prioritize KPIs that indicate short-term and long-term growth. Don't focus on monthly sales and provide insights on how close you are to reaching KPI targets.
Make your dashboards cleaner and more impactful by leaving vanity metrics off the table.
Vanity metrics are stats that make you look good to outsiders. However, they don't impact your bottom line or help with concrete decision-making.
Suppose you have thousands of followers on social media. If all your sales come from eCommerce marketplaces, user engagement like "shares," "likes," and "comments" are vanity metrics that have zero bearing on profitability.
To avoid cluttering up your dashboard reports, organize data visualizations, tables, and KPI trackers into different pages. This is useful for high-level dashboards that track cross-departmental insights.
Spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets, for example, let you consolidate related data sets into designated sheets. BI platforms like Polymer take it a step further by letting you create different views for the same dashboards.
If you need to add more information to your dashboard, use interactive elements to hide them from view until they're needed.
Interactive elements in dashboard reports often reveal a small pop-up window when highlighted. They help users make sense of data visualizations, including less accurate charts like pie charts.
Automating data collection eliminates the need to update data sets manually.
This is possible with direct integrations between data sources and data management solutions.
For example, Polymer lets you connect data sources that automatically feed new data to your workspace. Some examples of supported data sources are Google Ads, Zendesk, Jira, and Dropbox.
If you use spreadsheet software for your dashboards, consider automation workflow builders like Zapier and IFTTT.
While optional, animations help make data more impactful and—in some cases—informative.
Animating certain visualizations like line charts also provide users with a deeper understanding of data changes over time. Visualization techniques like line or bar chart races also let you tell a story with your data.
Take extra steps to simplify your dashboard each time you add a new section.
Reduce the text, shorten descriptions, and remove unnecessary data whenever possible.
Ultimately, BI dashboards are meant to increase the readability of data. Avoid going over the top when it comes to visualizations, animations, and supporting text.
Another way to simplify your dashboard is to use a consistent color scheme from top to bottom.
Apart from aesthetics, colors affect the way users read dashboard reports.
High saturation and contrasting colors will cause users to gravitate toward data regardless of priority. Using too many of them will also make your dashboard appear busier than it actually is.
Personalize your dashboard reports with your brand's own colors, fonts, and design elements.
This is important if you need to share reports with external stakeholders, including potential investors, customers, and brand partners.
Modern BI dashboard applications come with automated reporting features.
This automatically sends a copy of dashboard reports to listed stakeholders via email.
Automating reports helps you save time while ensuring stakeholders never miss important updates. In most platforms, reports can be scheduled on a weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly basis.
Optimize white spaces in dashboard reports by adding padding and reducing the size of visualizations.
White spaces create separation between dashboard elements. They prevent reports from looking too cluttered and hard to read.
Include target KPI values to help decision-makers recognize when and where action is needed.
Line charts, for example, can include an additional series for projected values. This allows users to directly compare actual performance with the ideal values to hit business objectives.
Incorporate filters that sort or control the visibility of data visualizations on demand.
Filters allow users to scoop up relevant insights from large data sets. They can be added to interactive charts and pivot tables with the help of data management and BI solutions.
First off, ensure that numbers follow the same format across your entire dashboard.
Cash values, for instance, must be converted and presented in the same currency (unless you're specifically tracking different currencies). Also, consider the use of decimals and determine whether or not they impact decision-making.
A typical strategy is to round off big numbers for emphasis. For example, rather than mentioning "$119,560.23," insert "$120K" instead.
Dashboard reporting isn't an exact science.
Some businesses require visual-heavy reports to make massive data sets more readable. Others only need a handful of tables with filters and interactive values to make data-driven decisions.
If you want to create stunning, easy-to-understand dashboards, Polymer has the tools and functionality you need.
You can streamline data collection, create custom dashboard views, and automate reports with just a few clicks.
See Polymer in action today by starting a free trial.
See for yourself how fast and easy it is to create visualizations, build dashboards, and unmask valuable insights in your data.Start for free