The Basics of Building an Executive Dashboard

by | Jan 11, 2022

As organizations move toward business agility and data-driven decision-making, executives need the ability to access the right data at the right time — i.e. executive dashboards. While executive dashboards can be built on a variety of platforms to answer a variety of questions, the overarching mission is the same: to showcase easily digestible  insights in order to inform business decisions. In this post about how to build an executive dashboard, we look at the basics: why they are important, key components of successful executive dashboards, and how specific executive roles can use an executive dashboard (because a CMO and CFO obviously have different needs).

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What is an executive dashboard and why do executives need them?

Before we get into some practical ideas about executive dashboards, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture. Needless to say, becoming a data-driven organization is not as simple as creating some graphs, and executive dashboards are just one piece of a larger data puzzle.

Many organizations still struggle to transform into data-driven. The advisors at NewVantage Partners have been surveying Fortune 1000 leaders for a decade about data-driven initiatives. The 2021 research reveals that fewer than half of surveyed executives (48.5%) are driving innovation with data and only 24.4% report that they have created a data-driven organization.

Even for savvy organizations further along in the data journey, managing data and curating dashboard stories presents challenges. Nowadays, we can seemingly measure anything and everything and live in complete information overload.

Executive dashboards will not solve all of the data management challenges, such as security and cultural issues. But they will grow in importance as companies advance with data. Executive dashboards provide the people at the top the tools needed to create a more data-driven culture throughout the organization. 

How to Build an Executive Dashboard

Here is a high-level view of the steps involved in order to create an executive dashboard. Each of these components could be a blog post of its own, but we’re summarizing in order to showcase the full process.

1. The Mission 

To build an executive dashboard, it first requires a desire to make decisions on insights. Otherwise it will just be pretty data with no purpose. So, before building a dashboard, we have to identify: 

  • What are the problems we want to solve? 
  • What are the questions we need to answer? 
  • Are we trying to improve customer experience? 
  • Are we trying to improve employee culture? 
  • Are we trying to improve cost per customer acquisition? Etcetera.

2. The Metrics

Expanding on the questions we want to answer, what are the particular KPIs we can look at to answer those questions? For example, if a COO wants to look at diversity and inclusion at the company over time, they might look at the ratio of female workers to the number of male workers, or the ratio of minority employees to the total number of employees. We will get into more examples below.

3. The Story

Once we identify the questions to answer and the metrics we need to do it, we have to map out how we want to showcase this data. Many experts suggest a storyboarding outline that specifically goes over all of the relevant KPIs and how they will be presented. 

At this stage, we start thinking about actual data visualization (pie graph versus line graph) and the overall information design.

Executive dashboards should usually be at a high level, showcasing only the necessary answers and not the whole backstory of how we got them. We have to decide on the level of detail the particular audience needs (sometimes this means creating a couple different views).

4. The Logistics

At some point during the above process, we have to identify the logistics of where the data sources live and the platform for the dashboard. This is going to vary in complexity depending on the organization.

As far as a platform for your dashboard home, you can look at the technology you already have in place, and whether it supports a dashboard. For example, we are building dashboards in Jira, which is a system already present at most enterprise companies. There are also many professional dashboard software products available (too many to list).

Data sources might live in or outside of the technology platform. For example, a CMO dashboard might pull in data from Google Analytics, social media, marketing automation software, etcetera. 

Those are all of the prep steps to creating a dashboard. The final step would be actual implementation and aesthetics, involving various stakeholders.

Examples of Executive Dashboards 

Now that we’ve gone through the general components to building a dashboard, here are a few simple examples of how specific executives might use a dashboard. We looked at the CIO, CMO, and CFO — but of course there are countless other use cases. Just do an image search of executive dashboards for many cool ideas.

Example 1: CIO

The dashboard is at the top of the wish list for CIOs. About half of the technology executives recently surveyed by PwC cite analytics to drive better decision-making as a technology capability that will be most important — more than any other option.

Depending on the role the CIO plays in the organizations, they could be interested in a variety of KPIs. Here is a quality list from the iDashboards blog:

  • Customer satisfaction: IT request response, close rate, and feedback surveys.
  • Organizational: How well are we doing against our goals? Project performance charts and department scorecards.
  • Security: Percentage of devices not up-to-date, the number of vulnerabilities, and risk ratings.
  • Cost management: Cost of delivering IT services, cost of resources, and budget variance.
  • Quality assurance: The amount of bugs/issues per project and incidents over time.
  • System performance: Online application or service availability, system uptime, and production incidents.

It’s also worth noting that CIOs might be leading the overall digital transformation charge and want to track certain milestones and projects related to those goals.

source: Sketchbubble

Example 2: CMO

Data is also top-of-mind for CMOs. Marketing technology, data, and analytics was cited as the top marketing priority by CMOs surveyed by PwC

The blog datapine offers helpful examples of many executive  dashboards. The metrics to track will differ depending on the business and role of the CMO. The example below is elegant in its simplicity, tracking five key metrics:

  • Sales target and growth
  • Website traffic-to-lead ratio
  • Cost per lead
  • Lead-to-MQL ratio
  • MQL-to-SQL ratio

source: datapine 

Example 3: CFO

Like their fellow C-suiters, CFOs are invested in digital transformation and technology, and that includes analytics. According to the PwC survey, 68% are investing in digital transformation over the next 12 months, including in technologies like cloud and analytics. 

The CFO dashboard could contain a variety of financial metrics. Here’s a dashboard example and an extensive list of KPIs, courtesy of the company insightsoftware:

  • Quick ratio
  • Current ratio
  • Working capital
  • Operating cash flow
  • EBITDA & EBITDA growth
  • Return on equity
  • Total debt-to-equity ratio
  • Accounts payable turnover
  • Cash conversion cycle
  • Gross profit margin
  • Earnings per share
  • Compound average growth rate
  • Employee count
  • Interest coverage ratio

source: insightsoftware

Learn More about Executive Dashboards

Interested in learning how to most effectively build dashboards in Jira? Access our free, on-demand webinar here: Building the Executive Dashboard in Jira. Join our monthly newsletter to stay in the loop on future events and resources about this and other workplace technology topics. As always, we would love to hear from you if you have any general comments or questions.

Ellie Behling is Director of Marketing at Atlas Authority. 

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