An Admin’s Guide To Better Reports & Dashboards

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So there you are, sitting at your desk catching up on the Salesforce Admins Blog, when one of your organization’s executives walks up and asks “Can you build me a dashboard?” What do you do? A common response is “Absolutely! What do you want on your dashboard?” There are only two answers to this question: 1. A list of charts or metrics 2. “I don’t know. Shouldn’t you know what I should be reporting on?”

Both of these answers are terrible. One doesn’t tell us anything and the other gives us lots of details but maybe results in the wrong dashboard or report. We’re right back where we started from with the only knowledge that there’s reporting to be done.

Before we can move on to what type of questions we should ask, we must first remove a common misconception when it comes to Reports and Dashboards. We must answer the question, “Why do we create reports and dashboards?” If you just answered “for data” in your head, you’re not correct. We use Reports & Dashboards to drive our decisions and actions. When we see a report or a dashboard chart it is supposed to inform our decision-making process and result in action. This means it’s imperative that we provide Reports and Dashboards that will guide our decisions, not something that will just “display data.”

We want to ask guided open-ended questions. The goal is to guide the person towards thinking critically while asking your question so the answer must be something more than a simple “Yes” or “No.” Here are some example questions you can ask:

What are your goals?

Every team has goals or objectives. Managers need to know are they meeting their goals and everything is progressing in the right direction. Maybe they’re exceeding their goals and it’s time for a pizza party, or perhaps they’re falling behind and the manager needs to hold a special team meeting this Friday. Knowing the team or department goals helps you identify the data you need to report on.

Who’s going to be looking at this?

Audience is very important to consider when creating reports and dashboards. Your dashboard is going to look different if it’s a team dashboard versus something going to your executive board. Your audience will help determine if it’s a dynamic dashboard. It can also help with knowing how to label your charts with different abbreviations or terms. I once worked with an executive who interpreted all Opportunities as “leads.” Giving him a dashboard that used the word “Opportunity” would have been meaningless to him. It is important to choose labels that make sense to your audience.

What does this metric/number/definition mean to you?

One of the most difficult lessons I learned as an Admin is that perception is everything. One time, I spent hours building the perfect Sales Dashboard. The next day the Vice President of Sales came over waving his printed Excel sheet announcing that “Salesforce is wrong!” What went wrong? To that VP of Sales, a “Lead” wasn’t a lead record in Salesforce. By “Lead” he actually meant “Qualified Lead” which he defined as a prospect that had a budget, was a decision maker, and we knew the product the prospect wanted. Had I asked him ahead of time what he meant by “Lead” this debacle wouldn’t have happened!

Why are you asking for this now?

Unless you’re actively implementing Salesforce, chances are you already have some reports and dashboards already. So what happened to cause this person to ask for a new report or dashboard? I used to have a manager that would ask for a new dashboard every week. When I finally asked him the above question, the answer surprised me! It turned out that the executives knew there was something wrong with the company, but didn’t know what. So this manager was looking at everything in search of a problem that didn’t actually exist. This is vastly different than having someone ask for a report because they have new goals. Get clear on the difference, and you’ll eliminate extra work.

When all else fails…

Remember our executive who assumed we knew what they needed to report on? Sometimes, it can be very difficult for people to pare down to what is truly important. If you ask guiding, open-ended questions they may not help in this circumstance. Instead, here’s a thought experiment:

Imagine you’re on a pristine beach in the middle of nowhere. No internet. No phone. No immediate communication. Once a day, a messenger comes up to you with a slip of paper. On that paper is 5 metrics. These metrics need to tell you everything you need to know to make the decision: Do you stay on the beach, or do you need to charter a plane to come back to work?

This is “beach-side metrics.” It helps identify what’s really important to define success, failure, or just give you one more day on the beach.

Being able to ask the correct questions when crafting a report or dashboard will save you time, and help you hone your #AwesomeAdmin skills. Use the questions above as a starting point, and craft your own as you need. Do you have any go-to questions to help you get the correct information when creating reports and dashboards? Share them with us in the comments, or on Twitter using #AwesomeAdmin.

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