Goals, Questions and Metrics: Building a Dashboard

Why build a dashboard? This question is often overlooked in the rush to get something done, something that looks good! When organizations look at building a dashboard, there are few quick items to check through. I have written extensively on using information in earlier posts (series here and here) so this time I want to highlight one particular technique.

My colleague Steve Unger at SAP Vancouver uses this technique when building dashboards for our internal R&D management and we have had success doing the same with non-profits.

The steps are:

  • What is the goal of the dashboard? Who will use it and why?
  • What questions are the users trying to answer?
  • What metrics can help answer those questions? What are the targets?

As an example, we are currently working with a Canadian environmental organization. Their communications team wants a dashboard to look at public engagement – volunteers, donors, web site visitors, etc.

When we met with them, we used this process to help map out the requirements for the project. In this case, the goal of the dashboard was to make better decisions on program spending. The users of the dashboard are members of the communications team. This team is responsible for recruiting and engaging volunteers, sending out mass email newsletters, running the web site, engaging donors over the web and quite a few other things!

The questions they want to answer are things like:

  • Does increasing email campaign frequency impact retention? (retention)
  • What would be the impact of increasing the conversion of rate of web traffic to email subscribers on fundraising prospecting?
  • What is the most effective way to increase the number of actions performed per email campaign, increase % open rate or increase % clickthru rate?
  • What method of acquisition of subscribers has the best ROI?

These questions then lead directly to the metrics that would help answer these questions. Once those metrics are defined, we can start to add targets to know whether we are going in the right direction. Depending on how “mature” the organization is, the historical data may not be there to set concrete targets. In this case, I recommend comparing to external benchmarks. For the examples above, there are best practices and expected results for conversion and open rates. The organization can benchmark against those as a starting point.

Once we refine these points, creating the dashboard in Xcelsius or another tool is easy. The hard part is defining the requirements up front. One more piece to consider is where the data is coming from and ensuring the quality of that data. More on that soon.


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