Dashboard to its user is what an assistant is his boss. While an assistant helps in managing multiple tasks for his boss, dashboard helps in managing multiple data sources for its user. Your insights are as good as you present your data and dashboards are an excellent mechanism to bring out those insights at a fingertip of users.
Dashboards provide at-a-glance views of key metrics which are relevant for business users to carry out their tasks effectively. In other words, dashboards can be considered as an interactive form of reports which provides users with a consolidated view of different metrics to make faster, data-driven and more impactful decisions. The dashboard is something which should talk on your behalf and act like an expert giving actionable insights to users. It should be self-sufficient when it comes to answering the question – “What all can my data tell me?”
There are a plethora of tools available in the market for creating dashboards. However, a badly designed dashboard or incompatible (or wrong) tool can lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment in the form of time and effort spent by the team. Even an ill-crafted dashboard may not be able to provide all the efficiencies and insights that the business teams may be looking for. For the same reason, it becomes imperative to choose the right tool and have a step by step approach for dashboard development.
One of the top business intelligence tools available in the market is Tableau. It is used to create interactive dashboards for users. It has been named a ‘Leader’ in Gartner Magic Quadrant for six straight years in a row (Source – Tableau.com).
In this post, we will focus on some of the best practices that you should follow to make your Tableau dashboard. We will also talk about some of the pitfalls you should avoid while creating a Tableau dashboard.
We will first talk about best practices for creating Tableau dashboards by dividing these practices into three different stages of dashboard development.
- Pre-Development: Ideation and Conceptualization
- Post Development: Maintenance
1. Ideation and conceptualization
There are some aspects that one should consider before starting to make a dashboard, i.e. when you are in the conceptualization and ideation stage. We will list down best practices below and understand each one.
Understand clearly why are you creating the dashboard at the first place? What is the end objective that you want to achieve through this dashboard? Is it automating the reporting process at the month-end? Is it giving a better visualization to some complex calculation that you have done in other platforms?
Having a clear understanding of your goal or objective to create the dashboard keeps you focused on the right track.
Keeping in mind your audience is another key part of creating a good and impactful dashboard. The dashboard that will go to CEO or any other CXO will be very different from the dashboard that will go to business unit heads, and that further will be very different from the dashboards that will go to branch managers. So, you need to keep in mind who is going to use your dashboard and how are they going to use it? For instance, a CEO would look at key metrics at the organization level and would be interested in looking at the overall financial and operational health of the company; while on the other hand, procurement manager would be interested in the amount of material being procured from different vendors and what are the prices at which it is being procured. That’s why having a GOAL in mind before development is essential because it helps us identify who is going to be the end user of the dashboard.
c. Key performance indicators (KPIs)
After thoroughly understanding the requirements of different stakeholders, it is important that a list of KPIs be developed for each user or each department. Having a formal sign-off from different stakeholders on the KPIs to be presented in the dashboard reduces the reiteration part and the development time substantially.
d. Data sources
After having sign-off on the KPIs, list down the data sources that you would need to develop those KPIs. This step is important because with every data source that you connect, complexity and cost of computing to calculate KPIs increases. So, it’s always better to connect only those data sources which have relevant data.
Depending on the data complexity and volume, storage and computation requirements should be estimated. Having right infrastructure at the backend improves the performance of dashboard considerably. Also, it is essential to understand how frequently the dashboard will be updated. Will the data be refreshed once every day? Is it going to be real-time? Having an answer to these questions will help in the right estimation of infrastructure requirements and prevent any performance issues at a later stage.
Once you have identified what all you need to present on the dashboard and set up the infrastructure, we move to the second phase of dashboard development. Following considerations should be taken care of during the development phase.
Designing is an important part of the overall dashboard development. You should be very selective with the colors, font, font size that you use. There is no rule book as to what is the right color or what is the right font for the dashboard; in my opinion, one should go with the coloring scheme of the company. This a safe bet as compared to trying different colors; moreover, it keeps the brand identity intact for the company, especially if the dashboard is accessible to external parties. Also, there are few hygienic factors that you should consider such as the font should not be very light in color or the charts should not be very bright. Having a subtle color scheme that goes well the brand’s identity resonates well with external as well as internal parties.
b. Visualization impact
Identifying the right type of visualization to create an impact on the first glance should be your target to achieve. Certain types of data points are represented well in certain types of visualization. For instance, time trend analysis is usually represented on a line graph; comparison of the same metric across different business lines can be presented well on a heat map, and similarly for other visualizations. To take an example of a sales dashboard, revenue and cost numbers for the current year should be presented as standalone numbers with a larger font size, along with the historical trend below it.
c. Captions and comments
Tableau provides us with the functionality to add captions and comments to visualizations. It should be used as and when required. Keep in mind that you won’t be around all the time to explain what different charts on the dashboard are representing. So, add relevant descriptions, comments or captions wherever it can be useful for the viewer.
3. Post Development: Maintenance
Once you have created the dashboard, there are a lot of aspects which should be considered for the effective and smooth running of the dashboard. Some of the aspects are highlighted below.
a. Robust testing
After creating a dashboard, robust testing should be done, and substantial time should be spent in testing the entire platform. Testing helps in identifying the bugs and deployment errors, which if not rectified can lead to system failure or erratic results at a later stage.
I would say this is the most ignored part in the entire life cycle of dashboard development, but it is a very crucial part. Once you have created a dashboard, proper maintenance should be done in terms of software updates, connections to databases and infrastructure requirements. If your data is increasing at a fast pace, you need to upgrade your storage and computing infrastructure accordingly so that the system doesn’t crash or become slow.
Up until now, we have highlighted some of the best practices while creating a dashboard. Now, let’s about a few aspects which you should NOT do while creating a dashboard.
c. Starting with a complex dashboard
Remember that creating a dashboard is a phased approach. Trying to develop a very complex dashboard at once may complicate things and led to project failure. The ideal way is to map down all the requirements that you may have and create a phased approach. Identify different requirements and map priority level with each. Start with the requirements or KPIs having the highest priority and gradually move to KPIs with lower priority in the subsequent phases.
d. Placing too many KPIs in a single chart
Though the Tableau has the capability to handle multiple measures and dimensions in a single chart, you should be very judicious while choosing the dimensions and measures you want to present in a single graph. For instance, having revenue, expenses and profit margins in a single chart may be of value; while having revenue and vendor details in the same table may not be as valuable.
e. Estimating too less time for deployment and maintenance
Proper time should be allowed to each phase of the entire deployment cycle. KPIs identification, dashboard development, testing, maintenance – all phases should be treated as the important and the right amount of time, budget and resources should be allocated to each of the phases.
I am sure after going through this post, you have a fair idea as to what practices should be considered while created a Tableau dashboard. These principles have been highlighted from an overall perspective, though there may be other nuances which are project specific. We would be happy to hear your thoughts and best practices that you follow while creating a Tableau dashboard.
This article was contributed by Juturu Pavan, Prudhvi Sai Ram, Saneesh Veetil and Chaitanya Sagar of Perceptive Analytics that provides Tableau Consulting, data analytics, business intelligence and reporting services to e-commerce, retail, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries.