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Dashboard Development Canvas - A Step-by-Step Guide

This article on the Dashboard Design Canvas was written in collaboration with Dennis Teekamp Gout (VisionBI). He further explains the benefits of using a structured approach, like a canvas, here.

Creating an effective Power BI dashboard isn’t as simple as dragging and dropping data onto a screen. Developing a dashboard that the end user will find valuable requires significant effort.
Many Business Intelligence (BI) developers struggle due to the lack of information provided despite the critical nature of the end product. Vague instructions, such as “Just create a dashboard with our sales data and do it quickly,” fail to provide clarity.

Several factors can affect the end-user experience and the adoption rates of a report. Besides ensuring data quality and clear definitions, understanding your audience, defining the report’s purpose, conveying a clear key message, determining the necessary level of detail, addressing specific questions, and presenting data in actionable visualizations are all crucial elements.
Quite a list.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many aspects of dashboard design. However, you can approach this in a structured way!

The Dashboard Development Canvas

Over the past few years, I developed a dashboard development canvas. The concept is straightforward: I outline every crucial detail I require from the end-user before I start creating the dashboard. This canvas becomes my roadmap during development, ensuring an organized workflow.

Advantages:

  • Step-by-step information gathering
  • Structured process
  • Instant insight into missing elements
  • Serves as documentation

Building Blocks of the Dashboard Development Canvas

There are 8 sections in the canvas, covering topic definition to evaluation, each with guiding questions.

1) The topic

While it may seem obvious, in practice, the subject is often presumed to be merely “data visualization.” But visualizing what exactly? The subject goes hand in hand with the core message and goals of the dashboard. So, if you’re struggling to determine the subject, referring to the core message and goals can help clarify things.

1 Dashboard Design Canvas - Topic - PorcuBI

2) The goal

The purpose drives the design of a dashboard. Without a specific goal, creating a report risks becoming one that serves everyone but is used by no one. Understanding what the end-user aims to achieve, the actions they can take with the insights provided, and how to visually represent this information is crucial. Which particular questions are being addressed?

2 Dashboard Design Canvas - Goal - PorcuBI

3) The audience

Who is the end-user, an individual or a larger group? How much experience do they have (crucial for design), and how will the dashboard be used? Often, the manager asking for a report is not the direct end-user. Therefore, it is essential to determine who the dashboard is for and to engage directly with the actual users.

3 Dashboard Design Canvas - Audience - PorcuBI

4) Current State

Are we talking about a new or existing dashboard? Assessing the current user experience is beneficial for an existing dashboard.
Which questions have we already answered, and which ones remain? What feedback have we gathered from end-users? Furthermore, it is essential to explore how incorporating new information can enhance the existing dashboard.

4 Dashboard Design Canvas - Current Situation - PorcuBI

5) Key Message

The core message should align with the subject and purpose of the dashboard. It should capture the context, information, and actions that users can take with the dashboard.

Example: “As a Management Team (context), we evaluate monthly (context) the KPIs (information) and the performance of both top-performing and bottom-performing products (information) per country (context). Based on this evaluation, we then determine which products to modify (action).”

5 Dashboard Design Canvas - Key Message - PorcuBI

6) Level of Detail

You typically don’t need to provide every detail at the finest level. It’s crucial to evaluate the necessary level of detail carefully. Presenting too many filtering and drill-through options can confuse the end user, compromising the overall user experience.

6 Dashboard Design Canvas - Level of Detail - PorcuBI

7) Visualization

Which visualizations could address the questions? Often, the developer and the end-user already have ideas about how to visualize the data. While these thoughts aren’t set in stone, they offer helpful guidance for the design journey.

7 Dashboard Design Canvas - Visualization - PorcuBI

8) Test & Evaluation

Just as crucial as determining the goal and the key message is defining who will test and evaluate the dashboard. It’s essential to establish what will be tested and who ultimately decides if it meets the requirements. Documenting agreements and responsibilities helps prevent endless improvement suggestions and redevelopment, which can result in reinventing the wheel repeatedly.

8 Dashboard Design Canvas - Test - PorcuBI

The Dashboard Development Canvas can't address every issue: Changing the workflow.

It’s crucial to remember that, in the end, the dashboard must be implemented and used, which may require adjustments to existing processes. This could mean incorporating the use of the dashboard each morning to monitor specific processes or to support decision-making. It’s beneficial to highlight the advantages, for example, “Utilizing this dashboard enables us to work more efficiently and gain insights more quickly.”

Time is already a constraint for us.

A dashboard development canvas provides numerous benefits, including a clearer understanding of the project scope, well-documented processes, and transparent agreements. While many BI developers are enthusiastic about this approach, doubts also exist. Often, the business side argues that there is no time to provide explanations or deems allocating extra hours to invest in working on a dashboard development canvas unnecessary. Therefore, it’s crucial to sell this concept effectively.

Would you like to learn more about the benefits and why the time investment pays off? Dennis Teekamp Gout (VisionBI) has written an article about it.

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