How To Build A Digital Analytics Dashboard For Your Executive

by Chris Wright

As a leading Google Partner, Napkyn Analytics is privileged to closely collaborate with many of Google’s analytics and media teams to bring world-class technology and solutions to our clients. With that, we were very proud that Google released a case study on our industry-leading executive dashboarding work with Lucky Brand Jeans that leverages Google Marketing Platform technology – including Google Analytics 360 and Data Studio – to serve up ecommerce and marketing performance data in a way that is meaningful to the business. I was particularly proud of this recognition because I am an Analyst who helped build that dashboard.

When working on this project with the team at Lucky Brand, there were several things I learned about what executives look for in a dashboard in order to quickly understand, at a glance, how their digital investments are working for them. While the case study showcases the final result of our efforts, I thought I’d provide a behind-the-scenes understanding of what actually goes into producing a dashboard like this, with some key takeaways that I think every digital analyst or marketer should think about before they get started.

Gathering Digital Analytics Requirements From An Executive

I was very lucky (last time I do that … promise) to have had a great internal stakeholder at Lucky Brand who knew the executives and their needs very well. My first piece of advice is if you aren’t going to get the opportunity to work directly with the executive stakeholder (pretty common, I reckon) then you need to seek out someone who can provide input and feedback like they are the executive. Mark, my key stakeholder at Lucky Brand, knew his executive’s needs extremely well and was able to provide input and feedback throughout the process that was crucial to our shared success.

Gathering reporting requirements for a dashboard and translating them into an intuitive dashboard can be challenging when you have so many options at your disposal. Google Analytics 360 has a massive number of dimensions and metrics. When you start to combine and filter that data, the number of options you have available for reporting can be overwhelming. There is often a temptation to pack pages full of widgets that provide data on every angle of the data-set. However, focusing on the essential pieces of information that the executive cares about is crucial in ensuring an executive dashboard is relevant and browsable.

To distill Lucky’s key executive requirements for the dashboard, I found success in starting with the business metrics the executive already cares about and then discussing them in the context of use cases. The beauty of use cases is that they inspire deeper conversation around what matters to the business, and can help uncover more insights that can be used to expand the coverage of the data included in a dashboard. We are currently in the midst of preparing the second iteration of this dashboard and also gathering lots of great input on which areas are used often, and which areas ended up being surplus to requirements.

Good Questions To Ask When Interviewing A Key Stakeholder

If you’re building a dashboard for an executive, it’s best to get quickly to the heart of what they care about. There are two key questions that you should seek to answer:

  1. What key performance indicators determine your success as an executive?
  2. What key performance indicators determine the success of the teams that report to you?

Once these bases are covered, you can start to seek more context, especially to determine priorities and understand more about how the dashboard will be used. Follow up questions could be:

  1. What information do you need to be up to date on, at a glance, for a Monday morning standup meeting with your boss/team?
  2. What is the first number you want to know the day after a big online sale?
  3. What metric gives you the best impression of the general health of the business (as far as your oversight goes)?
  4. What do you compare performance to? Is your organization focused on comparing this week to last week or do you prefer to compare this week to the same week last year?
  5. Are there secondary KPIs we should take note of, for yourself or for your team, beyond the digital analytics space?

Dimensions And Metrics Ecommerce And Retail Executives Care About

Napkyn works with executives across a number of industries, from major banks to not for profit organizations, but the majority of our longest standing customers compete in the ecommerce and retail space. These companies in particular have an enormous opportunity to drive revenue, gather insights, and gain operational efficiency by investing in their digital data and reporting infrastructures. While each company differs somewhat in terms of their technical infrastructure, data availability, and reporting needs, the baseline dimensions and metrics are similar.

In the case of Lucky Brand, we split their executive report into sections: an executive summary (for the executive) and subsequent pages (that detail the performance of various other areas, from digital marketing to merchandising).

Executive Summary

It will come as no surprise that Demand/Revenue is a topline metric that is immediately relevant to the vast majority of executive stakeholders. Including metrics like Revenue/Demand, Sessions, Transactions, Average Order Value, and eCommerce Conversion Rate on an Executive Summary page are excellent topline indicators of performance that provide quick insight into performance that can be reviewed at a glance.

Increasingly, a breakdown of performance by device category is also particularly useful as user behavior on each device category can vary widely. This can be included as a filter picker to filter the entire dashboard by device category or as separate sections of widgets (our preference). Being able to understand, for example, that eCommerce Conversion Rate was significantly affected by a massive amount of mobile sessions that did not convert can provide important context to topline performance data.

Subsequent Pages

The pages that follow the Executive Summary should provide quick insight into areas of the business that are immediately relevant to the executive stakeholder or represent an area of focus or growth for the organization. Keep in mind that the intention of the dashboard is not to replace Google Analytics; it is best used to highlight the most important and relevant data and organize it in a way that is illustrative and intuitive. In our work with Lucky Brand we quickly realized that these pages were best used as a snapshot into aspects of the performance  highlighted on the Executive Summary. These dimensions then had the most relevant metrics included with them to give insight into product and channel performance. Metrics like Product Quantity, Product Revenue, Average Price, Product Detail Views, Product Adds to Cart, Cart to Detail Rate, and Buy to Detail Rate provide excellent context to the information presented on the Executive Summary and provide the opportunity, for the executive, to ask questions to their team for deeper analysis/data gathering exercises.

First Impressions Matter … But There’s Always Room To Improve

Be sure to plan time to iterate. While first impressions can make the difference between your dashboard being an essential daily tool and a forgotten bookmark, you should plan to allow yourself (and your stakeholder) time to iterate your draft until the dashboard is right. A dashboard that is done quickly but ultimately feels ill-suited to the executive’s needs will not end up getting a second look. It will get tossed in the pile of other ill-devised tools that didn’t quite fit the executive’s needs well enough to incorporate into a daily routine.

While making the Lucky Brand dashboard we must have gone through 6 or 7 versions of it before we got it exactly right. Many of the changes were minor tweaks to get the dashboard just right before our executive stakeholder reviewed it. However, allowing the time for review, feedback, and edits was perhaps the most important aspect of this successful dashboard. We had the time and opportunity to change the metrics, language, layout, visualizations, placement, and breadth of the dashboard to make it more familiar, relevant, and appropriate. Small things like ensuring that the words used on the dashboard aligned with how the client spoke about their business internally were all part of making a dashboard that would feel familiar and bespoke when the executive received it.

Data Studio Helps You Make A Good First Impression 

Data Studio is extremely good at allowing you to make attractive dashboards at speed. Take some time to make your drafts look appealing. This goes against advice that I have gotten about making wireframe drafts of dashboards bare-bones as it is believed that any level of polish on a draft or wireframe is distracting. I just really enjoyed using Data Studio and found the process of enhancing the visual appeal of the dashboard draft to be quick and … actually … fun. Making an attractive draft dashboard went a long way toward getting the client excited. In this case, enthusiasm and excitement breeds engagement and forward progress. The best result you can hope for when offering a draft dashboard to a client is to have them excited about the dashboard and interested in proudly starting to show it off internally.

Presenting an attractive dashboard early in the production process helps with client engagement and often results in a growing queue of requests for additional dashboards from members of other teams that want in on the action. (This was our experience and I took it as a massive compliment and a good omen for our draft dashboard’s future success).

Key Takeaways

The single most important change that we noticed (and our stakeholder communicated to us) after delivering the dashboard is that Google Analytics data has become a trusted part of their executive’s routine. He reviews his dashboard regularly and relies on it to inform the discussions he has with his team. This is the best result we could have hoped for because it means that the dashboard managed to achieve several essential qualities we were striving for including that it is accurate, reliable, relevant, and appropriate

Growing from this initial impact with our executive stakeholder is an organizational excitement about reporting and data visualization. We have had the opportunity to continue to work with our executive stakeholder at renovating the dashboard to keep it relevant to his needs as they change. Data Studio is easy to edit and iterate on quickly so we are able to revisit the dashboard periodically and add, delete, and amend as needed.

Here are the most important takeaways that I took from this process:

  1. Find someone who understands the needs and habits of the executive to provide you direction; their input will be indispensable.
  2. Plan time to iterate and massage the dashboard; you won’t get more than one opportunity to prove the dashboard is worthwhile looking at a second time.
  3. Generate excitement by delivering a visually appealing dashboard even while drafting. Get your stakeholder excited to show off your work in progress. It can lead to engagement and additional dashboarding projects.
  4. Touch base with your stakeholder several months into active use of the dashboard. Find out what is being used frequently and what is not. Plan an iteration to keep the tool relevant.

Technology And Data Requirements … They’re Business Critical Too

Of course, answering all these business questions depends on the technology and data available to the business. You may need to consult multiple teams in order to locate the required data, determine its quality and coverage, remedy issues, and ultimately integrate it into a compelling dashboard. This post is focused on getting started; We’ll write another post on the actual mechanics of creating a dashboard in Data Studio soon. In the meanwhile, if you have questions about building an executive dashboard or need help, we’re just a phone call away. Give us a shout.

Chris Wright


As a Web Analyst at Napkyn Analytics, Chris uses digital data and visualization to tell the story of our clients' performance, helping them make decisions to move from insight to action.

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