Analytics

Gathering and Understanding Dashboard Requirements: What to Do Before Building a Dashboard

Learn how to get create a process to unearth dashboard requirements that help you build usable, visually engaging, and actionable reports.

Masooma Memon Masooma Memon on September 9, 2022 (last modified on September 3, 2022) • 16 minute read

Dashboard designers would probably agree that audience is the most important factor to consider when creating a dashboard. Still, even though this is considered the essential part of the dashboard design process, meeting with the stakeholders and end-users to discuss and agree on the deliverables is often skipped. Instead, most companies still rely on having a Data Analyst walk them through the dashboard and explain the data presented.

To get the most out of every dashboard you create, including ensuring the intended audience understands it, before designing a dashboard, you should go through a discovery process that will help you exactly pinpoint user needs.

In this guide, learn why gathering dashboard requirements is so important and what steps need to be taken before you actually build or design a BI dashboard.

We’ve also talked to 37 respondents to learn about their processes and get some tips. Of these folks, 45.95% work in B2C, 24.32% are in the B2B industry, and the remaining 29.73% are either agencies or consultants in the marketing, digital, or media B2B services field.

All these people who we surveyed have experience with dashboards. About 2 in 3 have been actively creating and using dashboards for some time. And about a third have just started using them. It’s also worth mentioning that 59% of them use several dashboard reporting tools, while 41% use specialized dashboard reporting software (like Databox).

On the whole, here’s what we’ll cover:

Let’s dive in.

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Why Is Gathering Dashboard Requirements Important?

Just as it’s important to understand a business’ goals before you plan a campaign to achieve them, it’s essential to understand dashboard requirements before you build one.

Knowing what your stakeholders are trying to achieve helps you design a dashboard that meets stakeholders’ expectations and is relevant to them.

Most of all, it’s important to understand your end users’ requirements so you can create a dashboard that gives them the data they’re looking for and tells a story that helps them make better business decisions.

A well-documented dashboard requirements report will result in the following:

  • Address business goals
  • Address data, technical, and usage needs
  • Uncover both current and future needs
  • Save time by providing the stakeholders with a constant point of reference

Related: Dashboard Design Ideas: 7 Design Challenges Experts Faced and Tips to Overcome Them

Types of Assessments Conducted for Dashboard Development

To best understand your dashboard audience’s requirements, conduct the following four types of assessments:

  • Business assessment. A business assessment aims to help you understand the business’ goals and how well its equipped to reach them. The best way to conduct such an assessment is to look at the company’s KPIs. These’ll help you learn about a business’s health, past performance, and future potential.
  • Data Assessment. Next comes a preview of the available data and its integrity. Some things to look at include finding out how accurate the data is, how complex it is, whether it’s relevant to the goals a business aims to achieve, and how fresh it is.
  • User Group Assessment. This involves profiling the people involved in the dashboard creation process. Considering lots of people are involved in the process — from stakeholders who consume it to data providers, it’s important you understand each group’s requirements and usage patterns.
  • Security Assessment. Since a handful of people are involved in this process, it’s essential you take security into account too — that’s what this last assessment is about. Find answers to questions like how users will be authenticated to access the dashboard, what security check-ins will be in place, and so on.

The experts we talked to said that business assessment is the most valuable type of assessment for identifying dashboard development requirements for their organizations.

8 Tips for Gathering Dashboard Requirements from End Users

Now for how you can unearth dashboard requirements the best, let’s look at the processes experts have in place — the questions they ask and who they collaborate with.

Here’s a list of the guidelines followed by the details:

  1. Identify stakeholders’ goals to suggest dashboard metrics
  2. Take a questions-first approach
  3. Understand how end users interact with the dashboard
  4. Identify which KPIs are the most important 
  5. Create a step-by-step workflow
  6. Collaborate on the dashboard layout in advance
  7. Choose the dashboard type before creating it
  8. Repurpose analyzed data to create useful dashboards

1. Identify stakeholders’ goals to suggest dashboard metrics

Creating usable dashboards boils down to having a strong grip on stakeholders’ goals. But instead of assuming what they’re looking to achieve, ask them.

It’s only when you have a strong understanding of the goal that you can finalize the type of dashboard to create, work on its layout, and choose the metrics to feature on the dashboard.

At Circuit, in particular, Fernando Lopez shares they seek to understand stakeholders’ goals so the dashboard can tell a better, more relevant story.

According to Lopez, “Every dashboard needs to tell a story visually, so we work with stakeholders to determine a common end goal and work backward from there, making metric suggestions that can all help keep the ‘story’ on track.”

“The metrics we all agree on are typically included, while those that not everyone felt were as important are still available but don’t take up prime dashboard real estate,” Lopez explains.

“Once we agree on which metrics matter most, we work to cut down the metrics on the main dashboard to avoid creating too much clutter. We can’t water down our main KPIs for the sake of more data — more is not always better, in this case.”

PRO TIP When building a winning dashboard, be ultra-selective with the metrics you feature. This is the only way to create a focused dashboard that’s easy to understand.

At Instrumentl too, Will Yang shares the team starts with the goals first. “We have found that the best way to identify dashboard requirements is to start with the end goal. What are we trying to accomplish with this dashboard?”

“Once we have established the purpose, we work backward to identify the specific metrics and data points that need to be included,” points out Yang. “This process helps ensure that we only have the relevant and necessary information.”

“Additionally, we involve stakeholders from all affected departments in the requirements-gathering process. This ensures that everyone has a chance to provide input and that the final product meets everyone’s needs.”

It’s also the key to creating a dashboard that meets all dashboard requirements.

In short, “Effective identification of dashboard requirements is essential for creating a valuable and impactful tool. Without a clear understanding of what is needed, it is easy to get lost in the sea of data and lose sight of the big picture. By taking the time to carefully consider the purpose of the dashboard and involving all relevant parties, you can set yourself up for success,” Yang advises.

Related: Goals Based Reporting: Everything You Need to Know

2. Take a questions-first approach

The best way to understand end users’ goals and strategic objectives is by asking the right questions.

Brenton Way’s Jonathan Saeidian takes about their questioning-fueled process to understand dashboard requirements. “The process of effectively identifying dashboard requirements in my organization is first to identify the problem, and then figure out the solution.”

Here’s how the process unfolds: “I start by asking a series of questions about what is going on with our business and what we’re trying to accomplish, and then I try to figure out what information would help us accomplish our goals.”

“Once we’ve identified what we’re looking for, then we can figure out how it should look on the dashboard,” continues Saeidian.

“This process is effective because it helps me think through all aspects of the problem:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What kind of information do we need to make that happen?
  • How do we collect that information?
  • How can we present it in a way that makes sense?

And this helps me think through not just one aspect of the problem but all aspects of it so that when I’m designing something new or building it myself, I know exactly how everything fits together.”

Related: 7 Data Analysis Questions to Improve Your Business Reporting Process

3. Understand how end users interact with the dashboard

Another important step in understanding dashboard requirements is visualizing how end users will interact with it — do they need it for an at-a-glance overview of the data or will they use it for an in-depth data analysis, for example?

“For our clients, we start by identifying what the business wants from their dashboard. For example, if it is for sales purposes, we will ask questions like: ‘What data do you need to see?’ or ‘How does this help you make better decisions?,’” shares Mark Ronald from Yes Assistant LLC.

“Then we make sure we understand why that data is important. Sometimes it’s because it’s a key metric that drives business decisions, but other times it’s because our client wants to be able to communicate with their team members easily and quickly.”

“We also look at how much time people spend on the dashboard, if any, and how much they use it daily,” Ronald notes.  

“It’s very important to remember that not every user will be able to use every dashboard feature. But they should still have access to everything they need without having to go back through multiple screens.”

With that being said, Ronald also shares an important heads-up. “In the beginning, the process of arriving at the ideal dashboard is trial and error. The reason for this is that as the dashboard is used, the users realize what is necessary and what is not. In some cases, it takes a while before an organization lands the ideal dashboard.”

So remember, patience is key. With each dashboard that you create, be sure to get feedback on it so you can learn how best to perfect it for meeting your target audience’s requirements.

Related: How to Create Actionable Dashboards: 5 Best Practices (and Dashboard Examples)

4. Identify which KPIs are the most important

“For me, I typically start by identifying which KPIs are the MOST important,” says Dustin Kapper of Signature Payments.

“If you overthink each one, it can seem like every KPI is instrumental to business success which generally isn’t the case. While most KPIs are important respective to the higher level KPIs, it is those that are the most important.”

“You can generally categorize these KPIs into two high-level categories: Strategic and Operational,” Kapper observes.

  • “Operational KPIs. Most Operational KPIs are real-time metrics that are used to develop Strategic KPIs. Operational dashboards would vary by department and dive deep into each individual metric, sometimes representing the same data in two to three different visuals.
  • Strategic KPIs. These are the ones that determine the success or failure of a company. Strategic KPIs are typically a summation of micro KPIs from each company’s department. This allows an executive to scalable gain insight into the overall health of a company without spending hours reviewing less relevant data.”

You need a mix of both of these KPIs. But as Kapper notes, identify the most important KPIs above all else. Also, remember that “it’s easy to get wrapped up into the micro KPIs, but business success is found in the macro.” So make sure not to get trapped under the weight of micro, day-to-day KPIs only.

Related: KPI Development: 13 Tips on How to Create KPIs That Reflect Your Strategic Priorities

5. Create a step-by-step workflow

Creating a workflow to identify dashboard requirements helps you save time while making sure you aren’t missing any important questions or steps along the way.

A workflow also ensures the quality of the insights you unearth is great. For example, take the process followed at Ever Wallpaper.

Luke Lee lays it out: “At my organization, effectively identifying dashboard requirements begins with a kickoff meeting between the Data Analytics team and the business owners. In this meeting, we discuss the company’s overarching goals and identify what specific metrics will be most helpful in achieving those goals.”

“Once the business owners have signed off on the metrics, we work with our developers to create prototypes of what the dashboards could look like,” Lee goes on. “These prototypes are then presented to the business owners for feedback.”

“Once the dashboards are finalized, we make sure to provide training to all users on how to navigate and interpret the data. By following these steps, we are able to ensure that our dashboards are meeting the needs of our business users.”

If you’re new to creating dashboards, you can always start by replicating another expert’s process (take any from those discussed here, for instance). Or merge a handful of processes to create a workflow that suits you.

Either way, it’s essential to keep in mind that as creating dashboards based on stakeholder requirements is a trial and error process, creating a workflow to dig dashboard requirements will also need time to perfect.

6. Collaborate on the dashboard layout in advance

Another valuable tip here is making sure you’ve worked out the layout for the dashboard before creating it.

This one’s a hat tip to SignWell’s Ruben Gamez, who shares, “We’ve found coming up with the right dashboard as a team is much easier if we decide on the right layout ahead of time. From there, we discuss which information is key and move that to primetime real estate at the top, left-hand corner of the screen.”

“Once we’ve determined the key data points and placed them, we can group charts and data with comparable metrics close to each other to prioritize simplicity,” Gamez outlines.

“By creating these groupings together, we’re better able to see how our metrics relate to each other and collectively choose to cut the data that isn’t as relevant to our cause.”

7. Choose the dashboard type before creating it

Another important to-do before diving into building dashboards is understanding the type of dashboard needed.

Brian Hong writes about how they do this at Infintech Designs. “To effectively identify dashboard requirements in my organization, I first identify the type of dashboard we want to create.”

“For example, if the company wants to create a dashboard that displays data about its sales and marketing campaigns, I will first look at the types of data relevant to each of those campaigns. I then decide what information needs to be displayed on each screen. For example, if we want to display the number of new customers we have acquired in each quarter and how much they spent on average in our product offerings, we need to know how many new customers we acquired in each quarter so that we can calculate an average amount spent by them.”

“After identifying what is required and how it should be displayed, I then determine how long each screen should take in order for it to be useful for decision-making purposes (i.e., when there are many screens with similar information),” says Hong.

The takeaway? Once you’ve learned the goals from stakeholders, work out the metrics that should be added to the dashboard (including their exact location) and what information needs the spotlight.

It’s also useful to decide on how long each screen should be — if you need to create pencil sketches for this before you create prototypes, go for it. If you’re using Databox to design your dashboards though, you can look at the hundreds of templates available in our template gallery for some inspiration on how to design yours.

8. Repurpose analyzed data to create useful dashboards

Lastly, LinkGraph’s Manick Bhan has another useful tip. As per Bhan, it’s best to start with available data to create valuable dashboards.

In Bhan’s words, “The starting point is to understand what data is already analyzed in the organization. We ask our analysts from all departments to share which metrics and data clusters they analyze regularly.”

“Replicating the existing reports with dashboards guarantees that the dashboard would be useful and attainable,” Bhan recommends. “Then we have an ongoing improvement process that is ad-hoc and not formalized.”

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Let Us Build Your First Dashboard for Free

To recap, it’s important to keep in mind that creating a dashboard without first understanding its audience’s requirements is akin to throwing darts in the dark. There are equal chances of your dashboard hitting its mark or falling flat.

So to maximize your chances of success, it’s best to begin by taking the time to meet with stakeholders and questioning them about their goals.

From there, work out the metrics that’ll help you measure these goals. Decide how you will visualize them and where exactly you will place them on the dashboard. Also, don’t forget to create a layout before you dive into the actual design part.

Sounds like too much to do? Then you can just focus on gathering your stakeholders’ dashboard requirements and let Databox handle the rest.

Using Databox, you can create dashboards from scratch — in whatever layout you prefer — or simply populate your data in a pre-built dashboard by downloading one of our templates.

In both cases, the dashboard is very easy to create. And it’s also easy to customize — change its color, data visualizations, and size of blocks, or add, remove, and reposition metrics as you see fit.

And if you still find yourself stuck somewhere, ping our support team, and we’ll help design your first dashboard for free. Sign up today to build an easy-to-understand and actionable dashboard in just a few minutes.

About the author
Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.
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