Discovering What Matters. Designing a Dashboard in Line With Your Client’s Goals

One of the easiest ways to get started at uncovering your client’s mental model is to use the tried and true W5H (who, what where, when, why & how) of course. The basics of who and when are described in my earlier article: Why Focusing on Your Audience is Crucial in Dashboard Design.

Now we want to concentrate on the What, How and Why. To help with the What, if there are any reports or documents that this new dashboard is supposed to replace, ask for them ahead of the meeting so you can familiarize yourself. This doesn’t mean that you will merely replicate it in a dashboard. You still need to synthesize it, add to it, and remove from it to ultimately choose the metrics that matter/ In other words, the content should influence performance. So if you have some metrics to start with or are working from scratch asking these series of questions will help to build the framework you need. 


Questions to help you discover what matters
questions to help you with what matters
What three problems will this dashboard help to monitor? 

By asking about “problems”, you focus on the what and the why. Clearly if complaints are high or sales are low, a business needs to take action. It’s possible that the customer’s mental model isn’t about a problem, rather goals, so you can ask:

What are the goals you want to accomplish? What information do you need to monitor your progress toward these goals? 

Each metric should be able to answer this question:

Can you take action using this information? 


Why is this information important?


Are you ready for our How question? How about:

context and detail are important
How much detail do you need in order to monitor your problem, progress toward your goal or take action?

That seems pretty simple enough. Again, we’re trying to narrow down essential information, after all dashboard space is at a premium! I would also include

How should these metrics be grouped?

This will be important when we work on the dashboard layout. Here, I talk about 3 guidelines you can follow to make dashboard layout easier.

Finally, we get to the last key piece of the puzzle:

How will you know when you need to act? What context in the form of comparison data, targets, differences from a benchmark, past data will help you identify that a problem exists or that you’ve reached a certain goal?

Each metric must include – as Edward Tufte puts it in his book “Beautiful Evidence” – an answer to the question “Compared to what?”. 

Well, there you have it. A neat and tidy framework for you to create a comprehensive scoping document for a dashboard. 

I think what our Scoping area still needs is a blueprint guide – something you can “fill in” as you take the client through the exercise. Watch this space for a handy guide you can download and use for your own scoping sessions!

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