5 minutes

26 Dashboard Report Best Practices: Key Principles + Examples in 2024

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. 

Table of Contents

  • What are dashboard reports?
  • Why do you need a Business Intelligence dashboard?
  • 26 dashboard report best practices to remember
  • Build world-class dashboards with Polymer

Exploring the Power of Dashboard Reporting

Introduction to Dashboard Reporting

In the ever-evolving digital era, dashboard reporting has emerged as a pivotal element in data management and decision-making processes. This mechanism enables businesses to convert their raw data into actionable insights, providing a comprehensive view of performance metrics and other pivotal data.

Why is Dashboard Reporting Crucial in Business Intelligence?

Dashboard reporting puts the 'intelligence' in Business Intelligence (BI), facilitating a more strategic and efficient approach to data interpretation. It provides stakeholders with a clear, concise, and actionable view of their data, as opposed to the traditional spreadsheet model, which can often be overwhelming and less insightful.

Key Principles of Effective Dashboard Reporting

  • Simplicity: Ensure the dashboard is not cluttered and communicates the essential metrics without overwhelming the user.
  • Relevance: Customize dashboards to showcase data that is pertinent to the user or department accessing it.
  • Accessibility: Ensure that dashboards are accessible on various devices and platforms to cater to the needs of remote and on-site teams alike.
  • Real-time Data: Employ real-time data to enable stakeholders to make informed decisions promptly.
  • Interactive Elements: Incorporate interactive elements like dropdowns and sliders to allow users to explore and engage with the data.

Example: Implementing Dashboard Reporting in Marketing Analytics

In marketing analytics, dashboard reporting can significantly enhance the team's ability to track campaign performance, customer engagement, and ROI. For instance, a well-crafted dashboard might encompass metrics like customer demographics, engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer lifetime value, enabling marketers to tailor their strategies effectively.

What are dashboard reports?

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. 

Why do you need a Business Intelligence dashboard?

Apart from making in-depth business data more readable, a BI dashboard comes with the following benefits: 

  • Save time tracking data. Dashboards are designed to sift through massive databases and compile relevant insights into readable reports. It saves time by letting you zero in on your most important KPIs at a glance. 
  • Make data-driven decisions. With KPIs at their fingertips, decision-makers can easily recognize trends and evaluate performance down to the employee level. This leads to informed decisions that address issues with sales performance, marketing campaigns, product development, customer success, and overall business strategy. 
  • Monitor and accelerate growth. In some reports, KPI values are compared against past data. This allows stakeholders to track growth and pinpoint strategies that work. 
  • Consolidate information from multiple data sources. With the right tools, dashboard reports consolidate data from multiple external sources. This can be a marketing tool, website analytics software, ad network, CRM platform, and so on. 

26 dashboard report best practices to remember

1. Set S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals

Set goals that are not only Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, but also enable Evaluation and Re-adjustment. 

  • Specific: What should you do?
  • Measurable: How will you track progress?
  • Attainable: Is the goal reasonable, given the company's resources?
  • Relevant: How will this goal impact the business?
  • Time-bound: When should the goal be completed?
  • Evaluate: Is the goal still feasible? 
  • Re-adjustment: How can you make your goal more achievable?

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.

2. Define your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

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:

  • Measure: What values will you measure, and how will you track them?
  • Data sources: Where will you pull data from?
  • Frequency: How often will you update KPI values?
  • Target: What KPI value do you hope to achieve?

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: 

  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
  • Customer Retention Rate
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) 
  • Year-on-Year (YoY) Growth

3. Identify data stakeholders

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: 

  • Campaign Experts
  • Salespeople
  • Marketing teams
  • Social media teams
  • Technology architects
  • Executives
  • Department heads
  • Data analysts
  • Project managers
  • Quantitative analysts
  • Risk analysts
  • IT business analysts
  • Financial analysts
  • Market research analysts
  • Customers
  • BI developers

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. 

Try this free marketing dashboard template from Polymer.

4. Understand the different dashboard types

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: 

  • Analytics dashboard: An analytics dashboard is a general-purpose dashboard for processing large data sets and sifting out priority KPIs. They present KPI summaries, performance timelines, and pivot tables to accelerate executive-level decisions.
  • Operational BI dashboard: Operational dashboards let you dig deep into the performance of business activities. In BI, operational dashboards help decision-makers ensure team members work at the efficiency levels required to achieve short-term goals. 
  • Strategic dashboard: While operational dashboards focus on the short-term picture, strategic dashboards let decision-makers monitor long-term company goals. It tracks KPIs with the intent of comparing results with long-term targets. 
  • Tactical dashboard: Tactical dashboards are designed to help mid-level management make informed, strategic decisions. These dashboards rely on interactive elements to pack as many insights as possible without overwhelming mid-management decision-makers.
  • Sales dashboard: A sales dashboard is a specific dashboard type that helps sales teams track and achieve performance goals. As the name suggests, it tracks sales-specific KPIs like MRR, sales volume, customer acquisitions, sales by region, and more. 
  • CRM dashboard: CRM platforms come with built-in dashboards for monitoring customer relationships. Some of the KPIs for CRM are new leads, Annual Contract Value (ACV), and rep response rates. 

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. 

5. Borrow inspiration from other brands

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. 

6. Choose the best dashboard software

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:

  • Dashboard visualization tools: Choose a data management or BI software that supports the data visualizations you need for your dashboard. Also, compare the configuration and customization options available for elements between platforms.
  • Supported data sources: Most dashboard software supports data imports from almost every source. However, some platforms simplify data imports and exports with direct integrations. 
  • Pricing plans: BI platform prices can reach exorbitant amounts, especially if your company handles massive amounts of data. Ensure you're not overspending for dashboard reports by paying for tools and extra features you don't need.

7. Consider your team's hardware

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. 

8. Build dashboards with templates

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. 

9. Create KPI groups

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. 

10. Organize your dashboard with headers

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. 

11. Pick the most suitable data visualization to present your data

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:

  • Bar charts: When comparing similar items or KPI groups, bar charts offer the most accuracy and clarity. Use a bar chart to compare performance between products, salespeople, and customer acquisition channels. 
  • Line charts: A line chart provides a precise visualization of a KPI series. It's best used if you need to convey changes in specific values over time. 
  • Pie charts: While pie charts don't offer the best accuracy, they give users a quick overview of shares between similar items. However, pie charts get harder to read the more items you compare—making them useful only with small KPI groups. 
  • Pivot tables: Pivot tables let stakeholders crunch tons of data and discover actionable insights quickly. Use them whenever you have large chunks of data that should be filtered or reorganized on demand. 

12. Provide additional context

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. 

13. Put top KPIs above the fold

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.

14. Leave out vanity metrics

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. 

15. Don't put everything on the same page

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. 

16. Integrate interactive elements

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. 

17. Automate data collection

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. 

18. Consider using animations

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.

19. Go for simple dashboards 

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. 

20. Use consistent colors

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. 

21. Align dashboard colors with your brand

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. 

22. Automate dashboard reports

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. 

23. Use white space wisely

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. 

24. Compare current data with targets

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. 

25. Offer filters

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. 

26. Be smart with numbers

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. 

The Significance of Reporting Dashboard in Data Analysis

Unlocking Data Potential with Reporting Dashboard

A reporting dashboard serves as a visual interface that showcases the most crucial data metrics and KPIs, aiding organizations in navigating through the vast ocean of data. Implementing an efficient reporting dashboard can streamline data analysis, offering a snapshot of the company’s performance and furnishing teams with the insights needed to enhance operational efficacy.

Integrating Reporting Dashboards in Various Business Domains

  • Finance: Monitor financial metrics like expenses, revenue, and profits, ensuring fiscal responsibility and sustainability.
  • Sales: Track sales performance, lead conversion, and customer acquisition costs to optimize sales strategies.
  • Human Resources: Observe employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention rates to enhance HRM practices.
  • Customer Service: Evaluate customer satisfaction, ticket resolution time, and support agent performance to improve customer service quality.

Enhancing Data Accessibility and Decision-Making with Reporting Dashboards

Employing a reporting dashboard enhances data accessibility, allowing team members to engage with relevant data without sifting through extensive spreadsheets. This not only saves time but also empowers teams by offering insights that facilitate informed decision-making, thereby driving organizational success and growth.

Conclusion: Embracing a Data-Driven Culture

By integrating effective dashboard reporting, organizations pave the way towards a data-driven culture, where decisions are backed by data and insights, thus propelling the organization towards sustainable growth and enhanced operational efficiency.

Build world-class dashboards with Polymer

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

Posted on
February 6, 2024
under Blog
February 6, 2024
Written by
Rand Owens
Founding team member at Motive (Formerly KeepTruckin) and passionate about all things Marketing, RevOps, and Go-To-Market. VP of Marketing @ Polymer Search.

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