A Quick Guide to Building a KPI Dashboard: Part 3

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Johnathan Briggs

Making sense of your KPI data can be difficult and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In thefirst part and second part of this quick guide I covered five easy steps for you to follow to build an effective, custom dashboard for making better business decisions.

1. Choose the right KPIs for your objectives

2. Arrange your Data in the correct format for importing into dashboard software

3. Decide on an initial dashboard layout.

4. Choose the best and most meaningful charts for your KPIs

5. Consider other dashboard items to give a different perspective on your data

In this final part of our three-part guide, I’m going to show you the last three steps for building and improving your KPI dashboards to make them convey the messages you need them to. By the end of this guide, you will have the tools you need to build KPI dashboards of your own!

6. Annotate your charts

In the previous chapter, we added charts to our dashboards which show users the key information in our KPIs. Now, let’s make that information more obvious and easier to understand. A KPI dashboard can contain very useful information, but still be useless if no-one can understand it.

By correctly annotating and modifying your charts, your users can spot trends and take action more quickly and easily. Here are a few tips to make your KPIs more understandable. Check out our Business Dashboards Best Practice Guide for more in-depth advice.

i. Add a Legend to your Chart


For charts which display multiple KPIs, legends must be included in order to tell which information belongs to which KPI.

Legends reduce the space for a chart to be displayed in the dashboard. Another option is to position your legends inside your chart to save space.


ii. Change Y-Axis values to make your KPIs more obvious

Sometimes, you will have KPI data that has only small differences between time intervals, like the chart below.


From a column chart like this, it can be hard to follow trends at a glance. To make your KPIs more understandable, what you can do is change the minimum value on the Y-axis of your chart.

In the example below, I’ve changed the lowest value of the Y-axis to be 40,000.


See how the trend information is easier to see now? Since none of the values in the chart are below 40,000, we don’t lose any information.

Of course, remember that if you intend to show value information, then this may not be the best idea.

iii. Use colours as status indicators.

If you are using chart items such as gauges and scorecards, you’ll know how effective colours can be at making your KPI information easier to understand.


You can also change colours to emphasise data in other chart types. For example, if we take this column chart with three KPIs, the similar colours make us see each KPI as part of a whole.


If we change one column to red, we see it as different, and start comparing that column to the others, which is what we want.


By using annotations, you make your KPI information easier to see at a glance. While adding these in can often be time-consuming, a dashboard program likeTarget Dashboard does them automatically. See the free demo, and get an inside look at how your KPI dashboards can benefit from these annotations.

7. Refine your Dashboard Layout

In part one, we decided on a skeleton layout for our KPI dashboard. Now that we have charts in our dashboard, we should revisit our chart layout, and tweak it to make sure our information is seen the way we want it to be seen.

Here are some tips which you can use to improve your dashboard layout to emphasise your important information.

i. Consider Multiple charts for comparing KPIs.

If too much information is placed into one chart (as I often see with line and column charts), the most important information you want people to see is often muddled, and sometimes lost.

If you’ve also had this problem, consider splitting up this information into multiple charts. Then, lay out these charts next to each other in your dashboard.


Doing this still lets you compare your KPIs, and allows you to easily see extra information on each chart. Also, the extra space lets you annotate your charts more effectively, which makes your KPIs more understandable.

ii. Change your chart sizes to match your data.

While filling one chart with too much information is usually a bad idea, this doesn’t just mean too many KPIs. Sometimes, too much time-based information is included, which can make your charts less readable.

In this chart, we have too much time-based information in a small space. This makes the trend information cramped.


But, we can make this information readable by increasing the length of the chart.


Remember, if your dashboard is going to be used by others, then it must be able to be understood at a glance. Revising your dashboard layout until it is perfect is an important step in creating effective KPI dashboards.

8. Present your dashboards in the way your users want!

It’s been a long journey, and we’re almost done! Throughout this post, I have drilled into you the importance of dashboards being understandable. This is the most important quality for a dashboard, except the relevance of your data.

By presenting your dashboard the best way possible, you ensure your audience gets what you’re trying to say. A great speech will only have an impact when presented by a great speaker! Here are a few ways to present your dashboards to have the greatest impact.

i. Management Report

Sometimes, nothing can beat a management report, not even a presentation. Having a management report with your dashboard information allows people to review your information at their own pace, and make notes on it for later discussion.


In this report, dashboard charts are supplemented with scorecards showing target information, as well as the original table information for context. A tool like this allows users to analyse their data and make the best decisions.

ii. Phone/Tablet Computer

Phones Tablet computers such as the iPad are fast becoming common business platforms. This has meant a rise in people needing their KPI info at their fingertips at anytime and anyplace.

Displaying your dashboards on a phone or tablet requires a little thought. Firstly, your dashboard software must be optimised for a small screen.


What you can also do is invert the colour display on your dashboards. The black background works very well on tablets, adding a modern sheen.


iii. Plasma Screen display

Some managers like having their dashboards on a large screen, so that management staff can always know the company’s current status and progress. Some dashboard programs allow you to create a slideshow of your dashboards, which will gives staff automatic access to all of your important information.

Follow these 8 steps to build effective, meaningful dashboards every time!

In the space of three articles, I have shown you 8 easy steps to create effective KPI dashboards for making the best decisions. If you keep these 8 steps in mind, your users will always have easily understandable, custom dashboards with no effort!

Of course, if you’re ever stuck on how to best present your KPI information, visit our Chart Database. This new resource lets you search through different visual indicators to find the best chart for your KPIs, and it’s totally free!