How to design Actionable KPIs for your embedded dashboard

Tom van den Berg
February 22, 2024

How to find KPIs that are important for your users, fundamentals of dashboard creations and how to bring it all together successfully.

Data Visualization

In this article, we’ll show you how to make dashboards that are valuable for the users of your SaaS application. We start by showing the fundamentals of a dashboard, and then we show how to find KPIs that are important for your users.

The fundamentals of a good dashboard

A good dashboard can be thought of as a good argument. The goal of the dashboard, after all, is to convince your user that they need to do or not do something. See some cool things you can do with Dashboards here. Below we list out the four C’s of what makes a dashboard good:

  • Correct: the dashboard shows correct data: the data in the dashboard corresponds to the data in your SaaS application.
  • Clear: The user has a clear understanding of why they opened the dashboard. Users know why they want to see the information. 
  • Concise: The dashboard shows KPI’s for a single process/business domain and steers the user to action.
  • Complete: Each KPI has the necessary details in the dashboard or in a drillthrough. The dashboard does not hide information.

In the initial dashboard design phase, you can ask the end users of the dashboard the following question as a check to see if you got the four C’s right: “Does the dashboard show the information you need to make your decisions?”. If the answer is “no”, then ask them how they make their decisions. That way, each dashboard iteration brings you closer to a good dashboard. 

What makes a good KPI?

KPI stands for “key performance indicator”. It’s a summary statistic that describes business processes at a high level. Also, it is something the user can control, they can take action to move the number up or down.

A KPI should have a goal attached to it. This means you can track the progress of the KPI towards the goal, and show the % difference. 

A good example of a dashboard with KPIs is actually a common one, namely the dashboard of a car. Take the speedometer, the driver wants to go the allowed speed of the road. Not too fast to prevent fines, and not to slow. The speed of the car is thus a good KPI that the user can control with the gas pedal. Looking at the speedometer shows you exactly what needs to be done. 

Another example is with finance. At the beginning of the year, companies make financial plans. In a dashboard, you can show for example the amount spent as a KPI and the budget as goal value. Then, users viewing the dashboard know exactly where they stand financially and how much they have left to spend. 

What these example show, is that a KPI has the following four checks:

  • It is tied to decisions that users make,
  • The user has control over the value: they can change it by doing something,
  • The KPI has a goal value,
  • Any deviation from the goal value means the user has to do something.

Below we describe how to find these KPIs for dashboards embedded into a SaaS.

The bottom up approach to finding KPIs

KPIs are the most important part of a dashboard. They are the reason a user wants to open the dashboard to check if anything needs to be done. Below we show a 4-step process of coming up with actionable KPIs:

  1. Consider all the information in your SaaS application that your user can control.
  2. Summarize this information in a few KPIs. For example, by summing the values.
  3. Think of when the situation is normal, when your user does not have to take any action. These are your goal values.
  4. Define the actions a user can take to move the KPI in the direction of the goal value.

This approach ensures that you find relevant KPIs for the different users you have. In general, it is a good idea to group KPIs together based on the actions that influence them. Later you can use these to make a dashboard for each of these groups.  

One caveat of this approach is that it limits itself to only the data and actions that are in your application. If you have a good KPI in mind but your application does not support it, then it might still be a relevant and informational KPI. These KPIs are a good way for future product development. For example, if your KPI shows the “number of users that did not yet approve the invoice”, but your application lacks the functionality to send these users a reminder, then this could be a good development for a future dashboard.

Bringing it all together in the Dashboard

When you have collected the relevant data and found the most important KPIs for your application, then it is time to put it all in a dashboard. For each action a user can do, collect the KPIs and put them in the dashboard. This is a good layout:

  • top:            KPIs
  • center:       Supporting charts
  • bottom:      Details in a table

The details table is the place to put action buttons, because the user has found the information they want to see. Next they can do something with it. Also, it is a good idea to make the KPIs clickable so that the user can easily view the details for it. 

And that’s it. 

If you have built a cool dashboard, or if you want to ask/share anything, contact us.