A dashboard is a single display that in a glance provides essential information for a specific objective. Since you are limited to a single display capable of being monitored at a glance, the first step of dashboard design is to select the purpose of your dashboard. This provides you with a filter to make sure that your dashboard effectively accomplishes its intended purpose.
Will it be strategic, analytical or operational? Answering this question will keep your dashboard from falling victim to trying to be everything to everyone.
Strategic dashboards provide managers and executives at all levels of the organization the information they need understand the health of the organization and help identify potential opportunities for expansion and improvement. Strategic dashboards do not provide all the detailed information needed to make complex decisions, but instead help executives identify opportunities for further analysis. A strategic dashboard should be simple and contain aggregate metrics the represent the over all health of the organization. Typically there is no need for interactive features and the data should be updated no more than monthly.
Analytical dashboards provide users with the data they need to understand trends and why certain things are happening by making comparisons across time and multiple variables. Analytical dashboards often contain more information per square inch than both strategic and operational dashboards. Since understanding is the goal analytical dashboards can be more complex than strategic or operations dashboards. Also, while analytical dashboards should facilitate interactions with the data, including viewing the data in increasing detail, it is important to maintain the ability to compare data across time and multiple variables. If you lose the ability to compare data then an analytical dashboards is no longer able to accomplish the goal of allowing users to understand trends and why things are happening.
Operational dashboards are used to monitor real time operations and alert the users to deviations for the norm. This often means that operational dashboards need to be updated frequently if not in real time, contain less information than analytical or strategic dashboards, and make it nearly impossible to avoid or misunderstand an alert when something deviates from the acceptable standards. Operational dashboards should provide users with specific alerts and provide them with exactly what information they need to quickly get operations back to normal.