5 Steps to a Knockout Dashboard

Reporting dashboards are an essential management tool for all business owners today. In my last blog I outlined the 5 Key Steps to Profit From Your Business Data. An effective dashboard reporting solution is critical to executing these 5 key steps, and will put you on the way to growing your business, saving you time and giving you the freedom to step out of the business and do more of what you really want to do!

What is a Dashboard?

Dashboards are reporting tools that enable you to quickly gauge performance in a single view of the business. They strip reporting down from pages and pages of numbers and other data to key metrics and simple graphics.

A dashboard should be flexible and be designed to suit your specific business needs. Common dashboard designs can focus on specific themes, such as an Executive Summary – for overall performance reporting; Financial – to monitor key financial data; Marketing – social media and marketing campaign metrics; and E-commerce – online customer activity and sales data.

There are many other possibilities, only limited by your access to data and your imagination!

What Makes a Great Dashboard?

Great dashboard design is crucial. A good design can free your time and bring key data to the forefront, enabling up-to-the-minute, effective decision making.

In contrast, poor design will waste your time by fostering confusion and frustration, ultimately costing you money.

An awesome dashboard isn’t just a reporting tool. It will help drive informed decision making and is an integral tool to growing your business.


1. Relevance and Key Metrics

Avoiding clutter is critical to designing an effective and valuable dashboard. Too much information and the report will be confusing, distracting and it will lose impact. At the extreme end, users will simply stop using the dashboard as it will not add value.

The key questions are ‘who is going to use the dashboard?’ and ‘for what purpose?’ Once you know the answer to these questions, you’ll have much more clarity on the critical metrics / KPI’s.

2. Logical Design and Layout

Features of good design include:

  • simple view of key data on a single page / screen
  • grouping of similar data sets
  • use colours to your advantage, eg traffic light colours to immediately indicate good / bad / neutral
  • use of charts to encourage interaction
  • significant insights displayed first, followed by key trends and more detail as required

3. Focus on Actionable Data and Decision Making

Yes, a reporting dashboard should look good. But data that tells a story and is able to be actioned is critical to getting ROI from your dashboard.

Execution is the key to achieving business goals, so a reporting focus on data that enables decision making and encourages action is hugely important.

4. Balanced Data

You should be asking the question, based on user needs, is more or less detail required? If its more, the answer may not be adding a table of data at the bottom of the graphics. Maybe its drill-down functionality, to enable further insights to be obtained. Or filtering functionality to easily separate business units. As always, the use case is critical to design.

5. Regular Reviews and Updates

Your initial design won’t be perfect, and it shouldn’t be. User needs are fluid, and its very difficult to perfect exactly what they are at any given time.

So the best approach is to distribute your initial dashboard design based on a good understanding of current user needs. Then review how the report is used, what additional information is required and what isn’t used.

Is the reporting helping with decision making, or is it being used in a more static, historic way? Are there segments of the dashboard that aren’t being used as intended? Is additional data needed? Go back and apply the first 4 steps here each time a review is undertaken.

The Magic Bullet

We all know that there isn’t such a thing, so having a dashboard is not going to solve all your problems.

But, once you have a great reporting process in place, you’ll be empowered to monitor, forecast, review, plan and execute tactics and strategies to grow your business. You’ll have a clear view to see where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Without it, you’re flying blind.

As a Virtual CFO, we support SME owners to setup the necessary processes, dashboards and disciplines to manage and grow their businesses.

To talk to us about your financial management needs, book a free initial consultation here.

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