How do I develop dashboards that maximize the value of Salesforce data? – Part 1

06/19/14 by Craig

It is not enough to develop beautiful and highly functional dashboards to present your data. Without a clear understanding of the audience your dashboard serves, it will fall short for consumers, no matter how beautifully designed. The key to developing a “must have” dashboard is in understanding the needs of the intended users.

Customize dashboards based on role: Executive, Manager & Sales Rep

Customize dashboards based on role: Executive, Manager & Sales Rep

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Don’t fall into the trap of designing a dashboard that makes complete sense to you (of course it will). Your proximity to the data can make complex visualizations seem intuitive, whereas your audience will need a guided approach to understanding the same data. Lend a sympathetic ear to those who will regularly use the dashboard. Early involvement of these key stakeholders will maximize adoption. Below are some simple questions to keep answering as you progress with your dashboard development:

1) What drives activity for your dashboard user?

You should determine what drives your users’ activities over the course of a workday. Are they looking for ways to improve the business and steer the organization toward greater profitability and sustainability? Are they trying to manage a team of sales representatives while keeping on top of performance metrics, goal setting, and corporate expectations? Are they front-line staff that need to keep up with complex tasks and require “help without hurdles?” Understanding the needs of Executives, Managers, and front-line staff will help you craft dashboards that addresses their questions within their context. If you can convey a data narrative in the right language and within the appropriate context, you’re one step closer to producing a dashboard that matters.

2) Will this dashboard improve efficiency?

EfficiencyNow that you understand the dashboard audiences and how to frame the context for their daily “stories,” you need to consider how to facilitate their needs. Even a great dashboard with fantastic insights can be designed in a way that adds complexity to the workday. Have you incorporated key metrics from existing pages and reports? Dashboards often become new “home pages” and replace older resources in the workflow. Don’t force your user to keep visiting the old sources because you didn’t think to incorporate a key piece of information. Your dashboard will be an overnight success if it presents the user with more functionality and fewer clicks. If you make life easier, your users will be more likely to return. Now you have a platform for delivering the metrics that matter, in a way that they will be actionable.

What value does it provide?

With a clear understanding of your audience in hand, you are ready to think about the specific purpose of your dashboard. It is critical to understand this from a business perspective. A dashboard can share fantastic information, but without satisfying a particular need or pain-point, it is nothing more than a pretty report. The ultimate justification for the cost of a great dashboard is the usability and adoption within the organization. If your dashboard is going to survive to see another day, it needs to address a specific need and do so in a way that adds significant value. You should be asking yourself a few key questions as you consider the value-proposition of a dashboard.

3) Is this an operational or analytical dashboard

Depending on who your audience is (Executive, Manager, or Sales Rep), your dashboard may be operational, analytical, or a combination. An operational dashboard is focused primarily on daily/weekly key performance indicators (KPIs), as well as daily task execution. An analytical dashboard is more interested in looking at historical trends and empowering the user with insights into how the business will operate into the future. Operational dashboards are about the “here and now,” whereas Analytical dashboards focus on the “past and the future.”

Your Sales Representatives are almost certainly going to be Operational Dashboard users. Your executives and board members will be interested in Analytical dashboards. Your managers, however, are likely to be looking at a blend of both operational (my team’s “here and now”) and analytical (how can my team improve) dashboards. Be sure that you understand the context of the user and what purpose this dashboard is serving. Don’t present your Sales reps with a regression analysis because you need to use up some real estate on the dashboard and it looks cool. Think about opportunities to improve the effectiveness by plugging in something like a weekly calendar view for the sales rep instead. When you’re producing an analytical dashboard for senior management, don’t present KPI’s without anticipating the question “How is this trending?” Keep in mind that operational dashboards are going to be used with high frequency and should be configured for maximum usability. Analytical dashboards, on the other hand, are like your elevator speech. They should be maximized for readability and impact with an audience that has 30 seconds or less to understand what you are saying.

4) Am I answering questions, generating them, or both?

Salesforce Dashboard QuestionsAs much as your dashboard may address the questions it was designed for, it is quite possible that it will also foster new questions as a result of providing a deeper knowledge of the organization’s data. This can be good or bad, depending on the dashboard’s purpose. If you are producing an operational dashboard for your sales representatives, then avoid opening new questions or uncertainties. In this case, the focus should be on performance metrics and taking action. The user should be clear about where they are, with respect to goals and what steps they should take to improve their outcomes.

Analytical dashboards, on the other hand, should encourage further investigation by answering existing questions in such a concise manner that the user is empowered to probe deeper. Just remember that your dashboard consumers are either interested in “how am I doing and what do I do next?” or “where are our strengths and weaknesses and how do we effect change?” but likely not both. Too many dashboards suffer from attempts to be everything to everyone and simply confuse the user. Keep focused on the value you’re delivering and don’t be afraid to create multiple dashboards to serve the different audiences and purposes.

Transitioning from Questions to Approach

These four questions can help you draw the right framework around your dashboard project. They also serve as categories that will, no doubt, include other, more in-depth questions. Together, they will provide you with a clear direction on what you should be building and why. The next step is to determine how you will build the dashboards. Salesforce is a highly flexible platform that provides many options. My next blog will discuss considerations on how you build out your dashboards.