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Effective KPI Dashboards

Updated on August 31, 2016

Wasted KPI Dashboards

On average, most KPI dashboards waste the time of the person/people creating them. They also waste the time of the few people who actually look at them. They are created because it is a job requirement and they occupy a slide or two in a long deck that get skipped over quickly. There is too much risk if they are lingered on, people start asking questions. Answers are lacking and put off until the next meeting.

A KPI dashboard delivers insight, provokes discussion and leads to actions.

The KPI dashboard may have a number of metrics on it but the thing it must show for each is the status Bad – OK – Good. What that indicator is based on will vary.

Then there is the target audience for the KPIs. Boards level KPIs will be for the whole company, but the board should also be looking at more granular performance as well.

Senior management teams will look at the KPIs for their part of the company but should also be able to see the top level KPIs for other areas of business so that they can see how they are doing. Line management KPIs cover individual departments but again, should show top level KPIs for adjacent departments for comparative analysis.

A good KPI dashboard will be able to show different levels of granularity so that data can be viewed to one or more levels deeper than the basic dashboard shows. This could be drilling down from an overview of the whole company, to separate countries, regions, product groups or even sales people.

The KPI dashboard, at any level is allowing the viewer to see the good, the bad and the OK and look more closely at each to find out why. If your KPI dashboard can’t help to drive actions then it is wasting everyone’s time.

The ‘when’ of the KPI dashboard. Timescales are vital for most KPI dashboards to make any sense at all. Monthly performance is most common, the variance is whether the comparison is comparing against the previous month or the same month last year. Both measures are good to keep an eye on, the danger is that so much gets crammed onto the dashboard that nothing actually is seen.

Most KPI dashboards, at the higher levels at least will be showing progress towards goals. Monthly, quarterly and annual targets. This is where the RAG indicators we talk about next come into play. For many board members the reds are the only thing they will want to discuss and drill into, make sure that extra level of granularity is possible.

Colour usage on KPI dashboards can help. Traditional colouring is Red, Amber and Green to make the Bad, ok and good really stand out. Mistake number one is to then add lots of other colours to the dashboard in different areas. This has the effect of sensory overload and nothing stands out anymore.

Next for consideration is the individual charts used on the KPI dashboard. The temptation is towards the extremes. Either having a single type of chart, usually pies or dials, or to cram in a whole range of charts for variety. The latter usually done by the person just learning whatever tool is being used and keen to show off their new-found knowledge.

The answer is to choose the right way of showing the data in each case.


Why KPI Dashboards?

Trends over time are usually done with line charts. Where there are many lines these can be hard to read so people move to area or bar charts. There is no right or wrong answer, try them all and see which best displays your specific data.

Comparing individual data points, like sales by product range, are often done with bars. Some people have an affinity for pie charts, but pie charts work best when there are very few data points. Using pie charts where there are more than two data points and you start needing labels to show the difference in areas.

When you are planning a KPI dashboard, think about:

  • Audience – what level will they want to see their data at
  • Metrics – which metrics will they want to see
  • Interactivity – what levels of detail will be needed
  • Questions – What questions are likely to be inspired in the viewer of the KPI dashboard
  • Actions – Is it possible to identify and act, putting key decisions off until the next meeting is a failure

Balanced Scorecard methodology often finds its way onto the KPI dashboard and mostly, this is a mistake. The KPI dashboard should answer a few key questions. The dashboard should be clear and allow for additional questions. The KPI dashboard should never aim to answer the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Keep it simple, focused and actionable.

Above is a KPI dashboard we supply to a customer every month. It doesn’t tick all the boxes. If you have read the text above, you will be able to notice several things that we feel are less than ideal. But, it is exactly what the client asked for and every time we suggest changes they say, “very nice, but no.”

The data in this dashboard is fictitious. If our client was producing these results we would be very worried for them. There is no RAG colouring to make it clear where goals are against target, in fact, for this client we supply that data in a different format entirely.

Note the filters on this KPI dashboard. They allow you to zoom in on a single product or select several. Here, you can try out this dashboard to see how every element of it is interactive, allowing you to just one year, one product or one licence banding.

We kept the colour scheme almost monochrome so the eye can drift across the whole dashboard without being drawn back to one element. Bars are used exclusively because they make it so easy to distinguish between even small changes in value. Most people find themselves flowing through the dashboard from top to bottom to finish on the lower centre, where we use light and dark to emphasise the volume of business that comes from renewals and how much is new. This is especially enlightening if you follow the link and see how large a portion renewals forms for some of the products.


Small Repeating Charts as Comparitors

The above chart uses small area charts which become almost incidental to the trend lines showing how each consultant is doing. The comparisons on this chart are both against other consultants and against past performance. Again the use of colour is kept to the minimum so that the actual chart has the focus of attention.

Are You Using KPI Dashboards?

Does your company use KPI dashboards?

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Dual-Axis Bar Charts

A more traditional addition to the KPI dashboard is the dual=axis bar chart below. Long grey bars show the total goal for the year and YTD bars show progress towards that goal. These change colour as they get past set milestones, something that has to be made clear with a well placed legend.

Dual-Axis Bars as KPIs


Analytics as a Service

Marketbuzz provides analytics-as-a-service, producing the dashboards you need at the frequency you need them for a fixed monthly fee. You can find out more about our services on our web site


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