The Ultimate Guide to Creating Effective Dashboards

Skye Reymond
By Skye Reymond | Data Scientist | Terbium Labs
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Operational, Analytical, and Strategic Dashboards for Manufacturing

One of the many benefits of using data-driven platforms like Salesforce is the ability to easily create and edit reports and dashboards. When done correctly, these reporting features can provide crucial insight to stakeholders across all levels of your company, drive action from employees, and monitor the health of your business processes.  

Fortunately, tools like Salesforce and their recently acquired subsidiary, Tableau, make creating a dashboard simple. 

But creating an effective dashboard… well, that can be much more difficult.

With all of the business data available, how can you be sure to focus on the right information?  How can you make your dashboards user-friendly? Easy to understand? Actionable?  

Don’t worry; you don’t have to be a UI/UX designer to create a great dashboard. You just need to understand your dashboard’s purpose and follow some tips and tricks to create a design that fits your needs.  

In this guide, we’ll help you understand the different types of dashboards: operational, analytical, and strategic. Then we’ll offer practical ideas for creating dashboards that put your data to work for your team and your company.


Take it with you! Download a PDF of our manufacturing dashboard design infographic.

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Operational Dashboards


An operational dashboard displays information around performance monitoring, real-time metrics, and daily operations. These types of dashboards should be actionable and displayed in a simple way that allows for “at-a-glance” monitoring. Operational dashboards are the most dynamic in nature with the information constantly updating in real-time. 

A major requirement for the operational dashboard is that the end-user can understand the information displayed with little to no effort. Charts and colors should be utilized to capture attention and spur action. 

Real-life examples

As an example, think of the dashboard in your car. When your gas light comes on, the dashboard is providing you with actionable information to stop at the next gas station. There is no additional analysis required — the car simply tells you when to fill up the gas tank and you respond. This information is also presented in real-time, as it will do you no good to realize the gas tank is low after you are already stranded on the highway.

Operational dashboards for manufacturing

In manufacturing, an operational dashboard should function in the same way. The dashboard should be used to monitor business processes in real-time and bring attention to areas where performance is not meeting a required threshold. These dashboards may monitor the health of machines on an assembly line, track critical shipments with deadlines, alert you to stock outs, or display turnaround times for a repair shop.

Operational Dashboards for Manufacturing

Tips for designing operational dashboards

For operational dashboards, an effective way to visualize and monitor critical information is utilizing the green-yellow-red color scheme. Highlighting potentially problematic areas in red will allow your team to immediately recognize when action is required. Consider using tables in your dashboard to display important numerical information such as turnaround time, the number of days until a shipment is due, or the amount of product completed on the assembly line per hour. Sort the tables by the largest or smallest value (depending on the metric) to gain visibility into your priorities for time-based processes.

Analytical Dashboards


If you want the ability to conduct high-level analysis and search for relationships within your data, you should create an analytical dashboard. Analytical dashboards are more complex than their operational or strategic counterparts and often help answer the “why?” questions surrounding your business processes. The charts and tables on analytical dashboards may require users to invest more time into understanding the information displayed due to the increased complexity. These dashboards should help you examine historical data, observe trends, identify patterns, and find underlying relationships between datasets. While the dashboard does not typically include all the necessary tools and data required for an in-depth analysis, it should be able to point analysts to interesting areas they should investigate further. It should also include drill-down features to provide additional related information for areas of interest. 

Analytical dashboards are most effective when they are applied to specific departments within your business. The end-user is typically in an analyst role, (think business analysts or operations analysts), but can also be in a department-specific role, such as a repair coordinator or shop foreman.

Real-life examples

iPhoneAs an example, think about the screen time app on iPhones. The app displays graphs that give the user insights such as their amount of phone usage each day, which applications are being used and for how long, how many times the user picks up the phone per hour, and how many notifications the phone displays per hour. The app contains information comparing these values to the user's daily average, then displays detailed messages such as “22 minutes above average.” From the usage dashboard, users can drill down into specific days to get more detailed information. The information from the dashboard also can be used to derive relationships between app usage and overall phone usage, which allows users to set app limitations in minutes per day to better control their screen time.

Analytical dashboards for manufacturers

Analytical dashboards can be extremely useful for manufacturers. They can provide information such as where sales are increasing or decreasing, where the bottlenecks are on the manufacturing floor, or which products are experiencing the highest number of warranty requests. From these visualizations, analysts can gain insight into underlying data patterns, identify the areas of a process that require additional examination, and shape the business intelligence strategy.

Tips for designing analytical dashboards

For analytical dashboards, use time-based line charts that clearly display trends over time. Utilize benchmark values (historical averages) based on historical data to add context to the values in your current timeframe of interest. Are your current monthly sales lower than the historical monthly average? Higher? Consider incorporating three variables in your charts rather than two in order to gain additional value from your visualizations. For example, instead of creating a line graph from a single line for sales over time, try creating the chart with multiple lines broken out by territory to gain further insight into how sales are changing over time with respect to territory.

Analytical Dashboards for Manufacturing

Strategic Dashboards


Strategic dashboards provide high-level measures of business performance. Also known as an “Executive Dashboard,” a strategic dashboard can provide insight to assist executive decision-making. This type of dashboard often displays a company’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and tracks progress on long term goals. These dashboards also can be a great place to display the critical success factors from individual company departments. Unlike operational dashboards, strategic dashboards are not used to drive immediate action, but instead to help the executive team plan future actions.

The charts used for strategic dashboards need to be simple and intuitive. These dashboards are typically not checked on a daily basis. They are usually used for monthly or quarterly meetings. Therefore the timeframe analysis should typically be handled using monthly or quarterly aggregates. These dashboards usually have retrospective components comparing current data to historical data, such as year-over-year comparisons. 

Real-life examples

A simple example of a measure that would go on a strategic dashboard is the weight displayed when you step on a scale. If you weigh yourself and see a number higher than your ideal weight, you don’t immediately run two miles and come back to better results. Instead, you will use this number to develop a longer-term weight loss plan like a diet change or exercise schedule. You then monitor this number over time to see if your weight-loss solution is working, or if you should make changes to your strategy.

Strategic dashboards for manufacturers

For manufacturers, strategic dashboards may contain information on profit margin, inventory levels, annual recurring revenue, days sales outstanding, and warranty claim rate. These dashboards commonly contain sales goals for the month, quarter, or year, and information on the progress towards those goals.  

Tips for designing strategic dashboards

When creating analytics for a strategic dashboard, avoid displaying excessive detail that might draw attention from the most important company information. When applicable, include a visual indicator of your target value in goal-tracking charts. Visualizations such as gauges or progress bars allow for a quick comparison to the goal value.



When utilizing comparative charts, remember to use the visualization that most clearly communicates the graph’s intended meaning. For example, assume you have a plot that shows your production target for production line A over 20 weeks. In the top chart below, the viewer is presented with the production target (the red line) and the actual production from production line A (the blue line). In this chart, the viewer is forced to manually calculate the difference between the goal production and actual production. At weeks 3,7, and 11, it becomes difficult for the viewer to process the plot values because the lines overlap and cross. In the chart on the bottom, however, the visualization is changed to plot the percentage difference between production line A and the production goal. In this graphic, it is much easier to see how the production line compared to the goal over time without manual calculation — and there is no confusion as to when the goal was met week over week.

Production Line A vs. Production Target Over Time

Plot 353

Good Dashboards Help You Make Better Decisions

Understanding the different functions of a dashboard can help you gain the information you need to move closer to your goals. Whether you need to take action, understand a trend or problem, or track progress toward your strategic objectives, the right dashboard can give you valuable insight to make better decisions. 


Take it with you! Download a PDF of our manufacturing dashboard design infographic.

Listen Now!

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Topics: Data Analytics, Data Integrations

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