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Data Viz Spotlight: Dashboard Discovery

A Dashboard Discovery Session is a great first step in a dashboard project, where you (as the dashboard designer) work with the team (data subject matter experts, power end-users, and other stakeholders) to brainstorm and identify the vision, goals, scope, audience, data, etc. that will help create a successful outcome. It echoes what Stephen Covey refers to as "beginning with the end in mind." This template helps guide that conversation.



Whether working with people within your company or as a consultant with external clients, it can be intimidating knowing where to start, understanding the big picture, and effectively capturing all the project/business needs.


Throughout my time as a consultant, I've had the privilege to watch and learn how my teammates go about this initial conversation and have come up with a few methods of my own. Now I would like to share my go-to process with you. My hope was to make a Dashboard Discovery template that was easy for any designer to use and adapt, so I created it in Miro! It's free to use and is tool agnostic, so whether you are building your dashboard in Tableau, PowerBI, Thoughtspot, or something completely different, this resource can be your launching point!


Simply follow the link below and click the Use Template button. By default it will create a copy as a new board, but you can also add it to an existing board you've created by clicking the dropdown arrow and selecting the desired board. If new to Miro, you will be prompted to create an account to access.



Now let's walk through how to use this thing. I'll dig into each section and explain why I believe each topic is important to discuss prior to building the actual dashboard.


There are 8 Topics you can cover in your meeting based on the project needs. I recommend presenting the miro board, focusing on a single Topic at a time, asking the questions on the Card to the group (being fluid if other organic questions come to mind), and taking notes live on the Stickies for reference in the future.

But first...


At the very top of this template, there is a box that says: "Today's Walkthrough: Your Voice"


I emphasis this because it's important to remember why you are here in the first place. As the dashboard designer, your goal is to create something that truly helps the team, to ensure their voice is heard. Remember to listen authentically, create a safe space, think win-win (another Covey reference), and challenge often love always (an Analytic Vizion core value).


Section 1: The Who, The Why, and The What

The first section helps the team think holistically about the overall business questions and related data.

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The Who

Start with this topic to help the team think about who they are truly serving. There may be more than one audience, so this step helps the developer think about how to best serve multiple groups in their dashboard design. You won't be able to address all requests from every audience, but this step ensures all voices are heard.

Ask these questions:

  • Who is the target/key audience(s)?

  • What individuals and teams will consume this content? What do they do? How technical are they?


The Why

It can be really easy to skip ahead and get straight to the data and design, but identifying your why or purpose will help ensure alignment as the project goes on. As a designer if you ever get lost after several iterations of a dashboard, coming back to the Why can help you re-focus and get back on track.


Ask these questions:

  • What questions would you like the dashboard to answer?

  • What problem(s) are you trying to solve?

  • What does success look like?


The What (Data)

You can't build a dashboard without the underlying data. This topic will help you get a high level understanding of what's available, what users are already looking at, and get you connected with the right people. As you're walking through this, it's important to try to gauge the group's data literacy and, depending on their level, modify the conversation. Detailed data conversations will come later in the process.


Ask these questions:

  • What key metrics does the dashboard need to capture? At what level(s) of granularity?

  • What are the existing data connections?

  • Who are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)?



Section 2: Your Wishes and The Story & UX

This section lets the team think outside the box, while also discussing design coupled with realistic functionality.

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Your Wishes

Once a person has been in an environment for so long, it can be easy to fall within certain patterns, boundaries, or biases and not see the forest for the trees. Help your stakeholders imagine what's possible by bringing in a fresh perspective and, per Jesse Cole, "give every idea a chance."


Ask these questions:

  • What's missing?

  • If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be? If there were no boundaries or constraints.


The Story & UX (User Experience)*

To me this is the most fun part, I enjoy listening to the team where my wheels start turning thinking about the dashboard design, functionality, and story flow. Depending on your audience, your dashboard may to need to address a range of requests. Execs may want high level, while analysts may want tabular views and the ability to export data. This section helps explain what types of dashboards exists (strategic, analytical, operational) and think through user stories (how different audiences might use this dashboard based on their specific questions/needs).


Use the Dashboard Type Pyramid image to ask these questions:

  • What type of dashboard should this be? (it could be more than one, with drill downs)

Use the grey User Story walkthrough area to work through questions:

  • Discuss a potential story flow/journey. What actions do you hope your audience takes?

  • What key features or functionality to your users need?

*I plan to have another blog post digging specifically into the Story & UX section. There's so much more we can unpack here.



Section 3: The How, Your Likes, and Your Changes

This section is optional and applies if there is already an existing dashboard and helps the team brainstorm ways to improve. Sometimes instead of going one topic at a time, I do show all three of these at once since there is some overlap.

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The How

This section could blend with the Story and UX section, but if a dashboard or report already exists, the goal is to see if and how people are using it. Are they truly interacting with it to make decisions for their business? Or are they taking screen shots and piecemealing it together in PowerPoint because only certain info is relevant to them? This can also help you gauge their comfortability with the tool and interface.


Ask these questions:

  • Are you currently using the dashboard? If so, how?

  • When are you using it?

  • Who are you using it with?

  • Are you using any specific elements or visuals that are particularly helpful?


Your Likes

If they are using the dashboard, help the team and end users dig into what they like or love about it. This can be anything from metrics, to visuals, to design, to interactivity. This info will help you know what to keep and include in the future version.


Ask these questions:

  • What are your Likes/Must Haves?

  • What metrics do you want to keep tracking?


Your Changes

This section I like to leave for last, because hopefully by now you've created some trust with the team and a safe space where they can share their pain points. It's also likely that they've already brought up some elements they dislike throughout the meeting and you can show you're listening by reiterating those concerns here.


Ask these questions:

  • What are your desired changes?

  • Is what you have what you need?


Final Thoughts


Using this template in real world situations, I've learned it can be used beyond just dashboard projects. I've used these concepts to walk through PowerPoint presentation designs, get feedback about an existing report, learn how a team engages with various departments, etc. So whether you are designing a dashboard, interviewing stakeholders, or something completely new, feel free to modify this template and make it your own.


Thanks for reading!


Let me know how do you typically run your "dashboard discovery" sessions. What questions do you ask? What other resources are out there on this topic from the #datafam?


Other references:


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