Dashboards can be brilliant. They can act as a living mirror for your team, reflecting successes and challenges to address. They can prove the value of your work to clients and higher-ups in an easily digestible way. And they can reveal what your audience needs from your website.
Equally they can be totally useless. And don’t be fooled by the shiny ones. A pretty design and technical impressiveness are no indication of usefulness.
It’s hard to achieve the former, and easy to bang out the latter. To create a useful dashboard you need to do a bit of work up front to:
- define your audience and their goals for the product
- get all the data
- get rid of most of the data
- start with a low-fi design and iterate
- get your team using it
An example of a useful dashboard is the Dashboard for GOV.UK transition project. This allowed my team to get more resources to ensure that our site was meeting user needs.
Define your audience
Don’t try to do too many things for too many people. For example do you want your dashboard to primarily be for your team to help them improve content? Or do you want to show clients or management the value of your work?
Define your goals
Hold a workshop with the people your dashboard is intended for to to define what success means. It’s important to have all relevant people in the same room in order to get a consensus. People will often have competing needs, and a good workshop will allow everyone to have a voice. An effective workshop will also give everyone a better understanding of the goals and they can individually meet them. Here are some questions you can ask:
- what do you want to achieve online?
- how will you know when you’ve achieved it?
- what data do you use already, and how do you use it?
- what data will show you why you’re performing well or badly?
Try not to ask what metrics people want to see! Often you’ll get a long list of metrics that won’t achieve squat. Instead focus on the actions they want to take with data insights.
Prioritise competing needs as a group and be realistic about what you can cover. If there are loads of different needs go back to the original goal to work out what will make the dashboard a success.
Get all the data
Once you’re clear about what success looks like, take a wide sweep of the user insight available to you. Look for qualitative and quantitative insight from things like lab-based user research reports, call centre insight, surveys and online feedback forms. Do an in-depth user journey analysis using Google Analytics to find the best metrics and get more context about website performance. Get your hands dirty with the data and keep asking yourself whether it will achieve the product goals, and allow your team to measure the effect of any changes they make.
Get rid of most of the data
You’ll probably be swamped with data, so half the job is deciding what to leave out. You only want high-level indicators that will show you where to deep-dive. For example tracking each field in an online contact form is probably too much information for a dashboard. You just want the number of successful contacts, then you can do a one-off deep-dive to understand the ‘why’ behind the number.
Mock up a low-fi dashboard
Scrawling numbers and words on a whiteboard or brown paper is a great way to start. Keep it in a public space so that people engage with it, and encourage your team to own the dashboard and provide critical feedback. For dashboard mockups it’s a good idea to:
- use real data and insights to make sure they’re useful
- include a headline at the top that reflects the main takeaway of that period, for example if you’ve had a huge spike in contacts due to an effective promotion spell it out
- use words for context – unless your team is very data-oriented they’ll appreciate it
- keep it uncluttered
Show it to your group and get feedback.
Keep your dashboard in a low-fi format for a while to see if it’s useful over time. Once you’ve got to a point where it’s delivering good results, decide on the best way to render it. A simple Google Analytics dashboard that can be emailed automatically will work well if that’s your main source of data. Consider Powerpoint/Google presentations, and Google Data Studio is fantastic. Or a whiteboard dashboard will do just fine if you’ve got a couple of clear goals, such as increasing sales and reducing complaints.
Show the team the value of the dashboard
Present the tarted up dashboard to your team and explain how the website is (or isn’t!) meeting their goals. Confirm how often and in what format they’d like to receive it. A combination of presentation and email is good – it’s best to talk your audience through the insights to make sure they’re useful and used. Let them know that it will never be finished, so feedback is always welcome.
If you need help making useful performance dashboards get in touch!