How To Create an Effective Data Dashboard That Tells a Story

How To Create an Effective Data Dashboard That Tells a Story

Data is everywhere. There’s more new information and data available today than ever before. As a result, businesses of all sizes are looking for ways to analyze their data and make informed decisions about how to move forward.

It’s a powerful tool for helping you run your business more effectively and efficiently. However, many dashboards are nothing more than an incomprehensible mess of seemingly random numbers. That’s because most companies fail to understand the purpose of  data dashboard management and how to create one that tells a story. It requires clear, concise structure, thoughtful design, and well-organized information. 

Fortunately, once you understand the principles behind effective data visualization, it’s not that difficult to create an awesome dashboard. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of creating an effective data dashboard for your business – no matter the size or scope of business you work in.


Step 1. What is a data dashboard? – Learn the basics

Step 2. Understand how data dashboards work

Step 3. Find out which type of dashboard will meet your needs

Bonus: Tips on creating your business data dashboard

Why you need a data dashboard

Step 1. What is a data dashboard? – Learn the basics

In the context of Business Intelligence (BI), a data dashboard or analytics dashboard is a visual presentation of data that helps users monitor performance and acts as a tracker of your company’s metrics. It’s an interactive visual display of information, usually organized in tabular format. Well-designed data dashboards display many screens of statistics within one simple compilation that gives readers the status of key performance indicators (KPIs) at a glance. 

A data dashboard is a carefully designed compilation of information connected to your files/services/APIs and presented in a way that allows viewers to grasp key points quickly. It should also be interactive so that users can drill down for more new details when desired. 

Whether you work in marketing, sales, operations or even run your own e-commerce business, a data dashboard can shed a light on strengths and weaknesses of your organization. 

Data dashboards examples

Sales data dashboard example from Synder Insights

E-commerce data dashboard example from Google Data Studio

What should data dashboards contain?

Dashboards management can be as simple as a spreadsheet with KPIs or as complex as an interactive data visualization tool.

The given information allows you to monitor important business performance indicators (KPIs) at a glance so that you can react faster when something new or out of the ordinary occurs. These visual representations of data usually consist of multiple pre-built widgets which are connected together by aligning them on the same dashboard. So what are these widgets? Let’s look through the main ones. 

📊 Charts and graphs – they summarize information quickly and clearly so viewers can see patterns and trends. A graph is a visual display of data such as numbers or quantities; a chart is usually a graph that uses colors or symbols to show the same information in a different way.

📈 KPIs and metrics – they can help a company understand how well it’s doing in meeting its goals by quantifying performance in specific areas, such as increasing sales or decreasing turnover time.

📑 Reports summaries – since custom data dashboards are interactive, it’s important to have the original source from which the information was taken at hand. By clicking on a particular graph or metric, the viewers can see a detailed report if they have concerns about the given information. 

🔻 Alerts and notifications –  small icons displayed on the dashboard near the numbers can be really informative and useful, especially when showing a negative index. For example, they can alert you that the strategy you’ve been using isn’t as efficient as you thought it would be. This way you can take action on time and save time, money, or energy for more profitable operations.

📌Note: Discover new ways of visualizing your data dashboard by taking a look at our article “What is data visualization?

Can a dashboard replace reports?

Not exactly. 

Data dashboards and reports are two sides of the same coin. Both of the methods show you the performance of business strategies, but the reports are about periodic observations when the data dashboards are about continuous monitoring.

Plus data dashboards are easier to understand since the primary component there is visualization. Reports give you clear information with numbers that need to be checked and analyzed, while data dashboards provide you with the most important information at a glance.

Step 2. Understand how data dashboards work

Data dashboards can be set up as part of a centralized monitoring system or as a stand-alone solution for individual departments. You can choose the one that best meets the needs of your users, department or organization. 

The two most-known opportunities for data dashboard management are Excel Dashboard or Google Data Studio. But let’s look through the general flow of setting up your personal data dashboard regardless of the solution. 

✔️ Think about the goals you want to achieve

The format of your dashboards will depend on what you want to monitor. Once you understand which KPIs and metrics are necessary for your goal, you can start organizing your data dashboard. 

How to understand which KPIs and metrics to track

First of all you need to accept the fact that it’s pointless and inefficient to monitor everything in the same place. You have to prioritize the spheres and keep track of the numbers that are really important.Having lots of numbers side by side may be hard to read and make a lot of mess.

Here are some suggestions on what to track based on your preferred sphere.

  • Customer engagement
  • Customer churn rate
  • Cost of customer acquisition
  • MQL to SQL conversion rate
Additional metrics to track:

✔️ Pick a tool and/or a template

Effective data dashboard management isn’t exactly rocket science, but it does require some thought and planning. A well-designed data dashboard will help you keep track of performance metrics over time so you can see how effective certain strategies are and make changes if needed. That’s why it’s important to choose the right data dashboard software for your business data dashboard creation/management or find the right template. 

The easiest example of how to manage your data in a minimalistic and efficient way is Synder’s Business Insights dashboard:

The software divides the given information from the connected platforms into categories such as customers and products and helps you monitor the most essential KPIs and metrics for your business. The calculations are automated so you don’t need to worry about spending time on inserting information about your business. 

This feature creates a perfect workflow between accounting work and analysis, especially since you or your accountant can do both in the same place. 

Choose the date that works for you and/or your accountant and schedule a Demo session with our incredible specialists to learn more how Business Insights dashboard management works or try the workflow yourself

✔️ Visualize the hierarchy

Data visualizations are more than just pretty pictures to catch the user’s eye. It’s a graphical representation of data, which aims to help users interpret the information more easily, rather than looking at raw numbers and spreadsheets. In other words, effective dashboard management helps you take actionable insights from your data faster.

Visualizing your data and having all of it in one place will not only make it easier for you as a user to navigate through your dataset, but also reduce the time it takes you to analyze the new data. This means that when it comes to building dashboards for your business intelligence software, visualizing your hierarchical data is one of the most important things that you need to do.

✔️ Connect your data sources

Let us venture a guess. You’ve got a lot of data. You have so much information stored, analyzed, and archived that it would probably take several lifetimes to read through it all. That’s only half of the problem. You’ve got various types of data — structured and unstructured, static and dynamic, big data and small data, internal company data and external market research data, etc. 

With all this information at your disposal, the challenge is finding ways to manage all that information so you can use it actively without getting buried under an avalanche of information or needing an entire data management team. In other words, you’d like to connect the dots between all the various forms of your massive amounts of data so that you can find what you need when you need it and without spending hours doing so.

That’s why the implementation of a data dashboard involves connecting your data sources to your dashboard. 

Step 3. Find out which type of dashboard will meet your needs

A data dashboard can be as simple as a spreadsheet with hyperlinked check boxes that users click to filter out information they don’t need to see at that moment. Or it might be more complex, such as a graphic user interface with several interactive charts and graphs that users can adjust at will. 

The right data dashboard management can help you monitor performance, track new trends, and make informed business decisions. When choosing a dashboard for your business needs, there are three main types to consider:

  • Strategic dashboards
  • Operational dashboards
  • Analytical dashboards

Strategic dashboards

A strategic dashboard is a compact and focused visual representation of the performance of your organization, department or any other business unit. As the name suggests, strategic dashboards emphasize high-level performance indicators that enable organizations to monitor their progress toward long-term goals

The primary purpose of strategic management dashboards is to provide insight into which factors drive profitability and what areas an organization should focus on to achieve its strategic objectives. They’re dynamic as they capture new data points from a variety of sources and display them graphically, usually on one screen. Some strategic dashboards include many KPIs and metrics but in general they capture 5 or 6 key performance indicators that measure different aspects of the business.

Operational dashboards

Operational dashboards, also called monitoring dashboards or monitoring kits, are tools that help executives monitor the performance of business processes. They do this by capturing data for managing operations that have a shorter time limit (daily or weekly) and that frequently change.

Operational dashboards are primarily used for process improvement activities. They provide information about what is happening right now so that improvements can be made through changes in workflow procedures or processes based on real-time measurements from the monitoring system. 

Such dashboards aren’t usually used for digging deeper into data. They’re used just to show the current performance of key metrics and KPIs. 

Analytical dashboards

Analytical dashboards combine the best of both worlds: they’re visual, just like a regular dashboard, and also enable users to dig deeper into analytics, acquiring a broader picture of a company’s strategy. 

Analytical dashboards differ from strategic and operational dashboards because they focus on monitoring data to explore as much information as possible rather than using that data to drive decisions. They can be used for analyzing historical data to explore new trends, compare the data, and create predictions and targets. 

Wrapping up all the information about the three types of data dashboards, here is what we’ve got:

Strategic dashboardsOperational dashboardsAnalytical dashboards
Monitor long-term strategies (30 days / 6 months / a year).Monitor short-term operations (daily / weekly). Depend not on the time frames, but on acquiring as much information and analytics as possible.
Focus on displaying the critical information – goals, critical measures, projects, etc.Focus on monitoring the current performance of key metrics and KPIs and the progress towards a pre-set goal. Focus on uncovering meaningful insights, exploring trends and opportunities, predicting results (both positive and negative).

Bonus: Tips on creating your business data dashboard

To create an effective data dashboard, you must understand how it works and what makes it good or bad. Here are some tips on how to create effective data dashboard management, so that next time you’ll hit the mark from the get-go.

Tip #1. Make a list of questions you want to find answers to

Whether you work in an industry or a company that uses data, it’s important to have a good understanding of where the data is and what information you need. Data analysis can be tricky, so it’s important to have a plan before diving into the numbers. 

Before you get started with creating your data dashboard, it’s important to identify the questions you want it to answer. That way, once you know what information you need, it’s much easier to create something that has a particular purpose and answers those questions specifically.

Tip #2. Be specific

Creating a data dashboard with relevant information is the first and most important step you need to make. Many businesses analyze their data only to end up with something that looks like a wall of numbers, charts, graphs and tables that no one can understand or find what they’re looking for.

Choose the data sources and fields that are essential for decision-making and store only the necessary information. Too much information within a data dashboard will only be confusing, and viewers will struggle to find the relevant information they need in a timely manner. There’s no formula for what your data dashboard needs to look like or how many graphs you should use. Instead, focus on creating an environment that makes sense for your organization and its needs.

Tip #3. Keep your dashboard minimalistic

Today’s data visualization best practices are based on the principle of simplicity. A shiny new dashboard should pique your curiosity, not stress you out. That’s why keeping things simple is essential for creating data visualization that works.

Look at any minimalist design – let’s take an apartment or a home, and you’ll see how less can in fact be more. The same goes for your data dashboard management; it doesn’t need to be jam-packed with information in order for users to understand your data. In fact, the simpler it is, the easier people will understand it.

Tip #4. Choose the right visualization

Without the right visualizations, your data dashboard is unlikely to provide much value. If you think of an entire data dashboard as a machine, visualization is its primary cog. Therefore, selecting the right visualization for your data will be instrumental in helping to get actionable insights from it. 

Data visualizations are tools that help us present data more clearly and effectively. There are many different types of visualizations that can be used to analyze data and communicate its key points effectively. Each type of visualization is useful for a specific set of circumstances and has its own strengths and weaknesses.

📌 Note: Data visualizations can make your data more appealing and easier to understand. But it’s important not to overdo it. If you include too many visualizations on your data dashboard, it’ll be confusing. 

Conclusion: Why you need a data dashboard

With so many new business software programs out there, you may be wondering if a data dashboard is something your company needs. The short answer is yes! 

Data dashboards create a connection between distinct yet related metrics, identify loopholes, explore trends and unveil potential challenges that exist behind the bars of the given data. 

Here are some more key reasons why every business needs a data dashboard in case you still have doubts. 

It helps answer the business questions

Data is a powerful tool that can be used to answer critical business questions. Businesses are facing increased pressure to produce results from increasingly fragmented data. At the same time, companies want to drive efficiencies by automating processes and accelerating their decision-making processes.

In order to thrive in this environment, businesses need tools that make it easy for users to access the information they need and quickly extract insights. An effective data analytics solution will fulfill these needs by making data easily accessible and actionable.

Not only is it easier to make a decision, data dashboards also help you see a broader picture of the business you’re running, revealing all the ups and downs of the whole performance in detail. 

It’s interactive and flexible

The strength of a data dashboard is its ability to be customized based on the needs of your company at a given time. You’re able to create different tabs with filters that target specific information based on requirements.

Users can drill down into details or view aggregated information at a glance. They can easily navigate through different views and switch between them as needed. These dynamic dashboards also offer pre-set filters users can activate to explore different datasets or filter out irrelevant data points.

It gives you real time analysis and alerts

Data isn’t just the information, but it’s also a very effective way of making sense of things. In this digital era where productivity is of utmost importance, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration so that the organization can function at its optimum. 

Data analytics plays an important role in understanding the performance of a business and also how you can make it better. A properly made data dashboard provides you with real-time information, since the numbers are updated automatically. In case there’s something that needs your attention (the downfalls), the dashboard will display alerts so that you know which area needs to be improved or which strategy needs to be reconsidered. 

It provides you with a better forecasting

With so much data available, businesses can easily feel over-saturated. But, with proper data dashboards, that information not only becomes manageable, but also provides value to your company. With the right insight and analysis, you can use data to achieve your goals more quickly and forecast the possible future standing of your business based on the given numbers.

It’s not enough to simply produce a dashboard that displays a number of stats and figures – you need to do more than that. You need to create a dashboard that tells a story. That is, you need to take all that data and turn it into a narrative that is both interesting and valuable. 

The idea behind creating an effective data dashboard isn’t just to display statistics, charts, and data points that present the company’s numbers in a pretty way. No, the goal is to do far more than that. In order to create an effective data dashboard, you need to take a data-driven approach and use data visualization to analyze and present it in a meaningful way that serves the purpose of making your data dashboard understandable to everyone.

In this article, you’ve walked through the main steps for creating an effective data dashboard. Hopefully you’ve found the provided information helpful and you’ll be able to create an effective data dashboard that includes more than just raw data!

Anastasia Su

Anastasia Su

Anastasia is a FinTech writer with experience working as a freelance writer for small business owners. She has participated in numerous events dedicated to business management and marketing. Anastasia is inspired by the fact that each successful business is a result of proper structuring so she tries to analyze every step and wants to share her observations with others.

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