How Many Times Should You Iterate on a Dashboard?
How many times should you review your dashboard with the stakeholders? The answer is three. But what if? No, the answer is always three.
When you're creating a dashboard or report for an audience they should see it and have a chance to ask questions and change things (an iteration), but how many times should you let them do this?
Yes, as I've stated, three is the magic number. That doesn't mean that I haven't done projects with five, six, seven, twelve iterations, but three will normally do the trick.
Why? The iterative process allows your audience to get to know your work, your approach, and to refine what they're looking for. This last point should really be stressed. Data looks very different when you take it out of a table and start assessing it visually. New questions will come up and old questions will seem irrelevant. This isn't because of a failure from any one involved, it's just part of the learning process.
So if they're getting to know your work, why only three times? Have you ever done an art project or tried writing, fiction or non? Frequently, if nobody stops you, you'll revise, revise, revise, and revise again. Dashboarding is no different. If you don't post a stop sign, you'll just keep going.
Three iterations also allows for different experiences to occur with each step.
Iteration 1: This is often a semi-grand reveal and requires a lot of processing by your audience. You will be able to explain a number of your design and content choices and they will start to become familiar with your thought process. This will provide some low hanging fruit. Since there's so much to take in, only the glaring issues and absences will be brought up.
Iteration 2: The shine of the new toy has come off a bit at this point. You'll review your latest changes, but they will now have thought more deeply about what questions are being answered and what the next big question they'd like to have answered. This will be where they will start to pick apart the design as well. Maybe they're unhappy with the font choice or the color scheme doesn't make sense or align to the brand, this will happen. Just makes sure that you have reasoning for every design choice you've made.
Iteration 3: The rubber stamp. This is the last look before going live and large changes are normally off the agenda (for the sake of timelines). You will again review the changes you've made and get final feedback. This is often the time where your audience will get much more opinionated on the small design choices. Once they start picking apart how much padding you put between graphs or whether they can all agree on the perfect shade of blue, it's time to move on.
Once you've reached that third iteration you'll find that consensus for small details falls apart. As I said, I've had projects reach more than three iterations, but at that point there's really just in fighting over minor cosmetic details. If people feel like the product needs more work, then launch it as a beta and let them explore it over a few weeks. If they still have the same issues, then start the process over with three new iterations.
There's always a chance to comeback and make changes. Don't get stuck in the cycle of changing things for the sake of changing things. Three, always three.