Product dashboards & reports: how to create an insightful report as a PM

Product dashboards & reports: how to create an insightful report as a PM

Adelina Karpenkova
Adelina Karpenkova (Smartlook Team)  |  Last updated: Aug 23, 2023
15 mins read
A staggering 94% of organizations agree that data and analytics are essential to business growth. As a product manager, there’s ...

A staggering 94% of organizations agree that data and analytics are essential to business growth. As a product manager, there’s no doubt you understand the importance of data-driven decision-making, including the need to communicate insights effectively to drive strategic action.

That said, creating product dashboards and reports chock-full of data that matters is a challenge for many product teams. It’s easy to cut and paste default dashboards provided by your product analytics software, but they often lack the specificity and depth required to truly understand your product’s performance.

Throughout this article, we’ll provide you with practical tips for creating custom product dashboards that align with your product objectives. We’ll also explore how to turn product data into reports that resonate with C-level executives.

Dashboards or reports?

There’s a good chance you already know the difference between dashboards and reports. That said, it’s important to draw a line between them so you (and your team) know when to use what. 

What are product dashboards?

Product dashboards are dynamic, visual representations of data that provide an at-a-glance overview of a product’s key performance indicators. They offer real-time (or near-real-time) insights and are typically presented in a visually appealing and intuitive format.

Dashboards make use of charts, graphs, gauges, and other graphics to present complex information in a clear and understandable manner. They also include interactive features like filtering, drill-down functionality, and dynamic data updates that enable product teams to access deeper insights.

Dashboard example in Smartlook 

How to access product dashboards

You can build product dashboards within your product analytics platform. Smartlook offers interactive, customizable dashboards that allow you to visualize all sorts of user experiences and product-related data.

When you need product dashboards

Dashboards are ideal for tracking high-level metrics that provide an overview of your product’s performance. 

They’re particularly valuable for real-time monitoring and obtaining quick insights when it’s imperative for teams to have their finger on the pulse of key metrics to assess their progress.

What are product reports?

Product reports provide a more comprehensive and structured analysis of data over a specific period. They enable more in-depth data exploration, often facilitating retrospective analysis and long-term trend identification, and allow you to share insights with stakeholders. 

Reports typically focus on specific areas of product performance and go into more detail compared to high-level dashboards. It’s also common for people that deliver reports to interpret the data, offer explanations, and provide their own perspective. 

How to access product reports

The data that makes up a product report is usually extracted from the same analytics tool used for product dashboards. In Smartlook, you can activate reporting from any dashboard — all you need to do is specify the reporting frequency and period.

When you need product reports

Product teams use reports for strategic decision-making and communicating key findings to a broader audience.

The most common use case for reports is regular performance reviews when a product manager (PM) needs to present and interpret product analytics data for stakeholders and management.  

Types of product analytics dashboards

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all product dashboard. You’ll need different types of dashboards for different needs. 

1. Operational dashboards

Operational dashboards (or product operations dashboards) monitor KPIs related to operational efficiency, system health, and service reliability. They often include metrics like uptime percentage, response time, error rates, and system resource utilization.

This type of dashboard helps product teams quickly identify and address any operational issues, such as server downtime, latency spikes, or service disruptions. 

Source: Sentry

2. Strategic dashboards

Strategic dashboards display high-level insights and metrics aligned with the long-term goals of the product. These dashboards help monitor the overall health and success of a product by displaying metrics related to user acquisition, conversion rates, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction. 

Management is primarily responsible for maintaining strategic dashboards. Product leaders turn to strategic dashboards to make informed decisions surrounding a product’s direction and resource allocation.

Source: Geckoboard

3. Project management dashboards

Project management dashboards allow you to visualize the progress and status of product development projects. They include information relating to project timelines, task completion, resource allocation, and team productivity. 

You can build these dashboards using your product management software. For instance, Jira offers dashboards that provide a comprehensive overview of project status at a glance, including to-do list tasks, team member progress, and more. 

Source: Atlassian

4. User experience dashboards

User experience (UX) dashboards provide a view into how users interact with a product. They visualize user paths, points of friction, and other metrics that reflect the UX.

This is perhaps the most insightful type of dashboard for product-led teams, as they enable you to see your product from the user’s perspective. 

User analytics dashboards take many forms:

  • Funnel visualizations: The visualization of the user journey, including the paths users take as they navigate a product
  • Heatmaps: Insight into where users click, scroll, and spend the most time in a product’s interface 
  • In-app events: Statistics on specific user actions and events within a product  — best for identifying the most/underused features

Smartlook supports all three types of UX dashboards, giving you a comprehensive overview of how your users experience your product.

How to build zero-fluff product dashboards 

There’s a good chance your product analytics software has already prepared a default dashboards tab for you. But to gain meaningful insights from your product analytics, you’ll need to go beyond the pre-built options and create custom dashboards tailored to your project objectives.

1. Use product analytics software with data visualization capabilities

Not all product analytics tools are equally as effective when it comes to dashboards. Some offer limited customization capabilities, and others struggle to provide up-to-date insights. 

Look for software that allows you to easily create, customize, and update visualizations to suit your needs.

We’ve already touched upon software solutions that will help you create different types of dashboards, but let’s bring them all together:

  • Geckoboard dedicated dashboard software that combines data from multiple analytics platforms to centralize your KPIs
  • Smartlook — a product analytics platform that features UX dashboards for sharing insight into user behavior
  • Sentry — an application performance tracking tool that provides you with a broad overview of your application’s health by collecting and visualizing statistics relating to product issues
  • Jira — a product management system that allows you to create custom dashboards to monitor project progress, track tasks, and visualize key metrics related to your projects
“Smartlook is a tool that helps product managers make the right product decisions. Instead of relying on your intuition, you have access to clear data regarding user behavior and how your product works. PMs can set up custom views of specific product data in Smartlook, save it to a dashboard, and view the current status in moments. With Smartlook, you can place virtually any view of the data on the dashboard, such as DAU, WAU, MAU metrics, time charts for key product events, or funnels, for example.” 
Tomáš Bia
Tomáš Bia
Senior Product Manager at “Smartlook”

2. Create different types of dashboards based on projects and objectives

Assuming you already have the right analytics software in your tech stack, let’s move on to the best practices for creating dashboards that make a difference.

As there’s no shortage of things you can put on your dashboards, choosing from a variety of metrics, time ranges, and types of widgets can be overwhelming.

That’s why we recommend one major objective per dashboard. Think of each dashboard as a focused lens through which you can examine specific metrics and data points related to a particular goal or area of analysis. 

For instance, you can have a UX dashboard that sheds light on user behavior and product adoption metrics, a strategic dashboard that provides high-level insights on product and business KPIs, and a sales dashboard that tracks revenue and conversion rates.

This approach helps you focus and maintain clarity when analyzing your product data.

In Smartlook, you can create an unlimited number of dashboards and manage them autonomously. This allows you to create unique dashboards across teams that include only the most relevant tiles (widgets).

Consider creating really granular dashboards that focus on specific user segments, product aspects, or teams. 

With Smartlook, you can segment your data based on different parameters, such as user demographics, traffic sources, or user behavior. Segmenting your data can provide deeper insight into specific user groups and behaviors, allowing you to tailor your product reports accordingly. 

3. Select metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs)

Let’s say you have an empty custom dashboard tab in front of you. What should you add to it?

First, you’ll need to determine the objective and KPIs for your dashboard.

A clear objective sets the direction and focus of your analysis, guiding you in selecting the right metrics and visualizations to include.

Ask yourself, “What specific question or area of performance do I want to understand or improve?”

Keep your objective SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

If you want to boost user engagement among high-ticket customers, your objective may sound something like “Increase the average session duration of Enterprise plan users by 20% within the next quarter.”

Once you have a defined objective, break it down into specific components or sub-objectives. These sub-objectives should align with your overall goal and focus on different aspects or dimensions related to your product or business.

For instance, if your objective is to increase user engagement, your sub-objectives might include understanding user behavior patterns, identifying points of friction in the user journey, or analyzing the impact of specific features on engagement metrics.

These sub-objectives will form the tiles of your dashboard. Each tile helps you visualize the user experience from a different angle, allowing you to gain insight into different aspects of user engagement.

4. Limit the number of tiles per dashboard

When designing your dashboard, remember that less is more. Resist the temptation to overload your dashboard with excessive metrics and visualizations. 

Cluttering your dashboard will only confuse your goals and make it difficult to find the information you’re looking for. Instead, focus on including only the most important tiles.

Keep the number of tiles per dashboard to a manageable range, ideally no more than 5-7 tiles. 

5. Configure dashboard access

Configure access permissions to ensure that the right people have the appropriate level of visibility into your product data. 

When managing permissions, consider the following factors:

  • User roles. Identify the different user roles within your organization that will need access to the dashboard. This may include executives, product managers, analysts, or specific team members. Determine the level of access and functionality each role requires
  • Access levels. You may have read-only access for stakeholders who only need to view the dashboard, while product managers or analysts may require editing capabilities to customize the dashboard and explore the data further

6. Activate reporting for events in your project

You’re all set. What’s next?

The next step is to activate reporting for the dashboards you’ve built. Regular reporting allows you to receive and share updates regarding the metrics and insights displayed in your dashboard.

And when it’s time for your performance review, you can use those reports as a base for your presentations. Speaking of which… 

21 Metrics for your product reports

You shouldn’t include every possible metric in your product analytics reports just to make them look more solid. Similar to dashboards, your reports should focus on specific aspects of your product growth.

We’ve compiled a list of must-have metrics based on the angle of your reports:

1. Revenue-related metrics

C-level executives, finance teams, and stakeholders want insights into the financial performance of a product. Include the following metrics in your reports to meet their expectations:

  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) measures the predictable, recurring revenue generated by your product on a monthly basis. It provides insight into the stability and growth of your subscription-based business
  • Average Revenue per User (ARPU) calculates the average revenue generated per user or customer. It helps evaluate the monetization potential of your user base and the effectiveness of your pricing strategies
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) estimates the total value a customer brings to your business over their lifetime. It assesses the long-term profitability of acquiring and retaining customers
  • Revenue Churn Rate measures the rate at which your revenue is lost due to customer cancellations or downgrades. It highlights the health of your customer base and identifies opportunities for reducing churn

2. User adoption and engagement metrics

When reporting to product managers, marketing teams, and customer success teams, you’ll need to cover the following metrics:

  • Active Users represent the number of users actively engaging with your product within a specific time period 
  • User Retention Rate calculates the percentage of users who continue to use your product over a given period
  • Time on Task measures the average time users spend performing specific tasks or actions within your product. It gives you a better idea of the usability of your product
  • Feature Adoption Rate tracks the rate at which users adopt specific features of your product. It’s helpful for evaluating the success of feature releases and making product improvement decisions
  • Customer Churn Rate measures the percentage of customers who stop using or cancel their subscription to your product over a given period
  • Churn Rate Cohort Analysis segments customers based on their acquisition cohorts and tracks their churn rates over time

3. Conversion and funnel metrics

Product teams need to work closely with sales departments to align their efforts and build a product that meets users’ needs. Therefore, you may need to collaborate on reports that dig into the conversion funnel. 

Among other KPIs, these reports should cover the following:

  • Conversion Rates: measures the percentage of users who complete a desired action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a subscription. Product teams usually track free trial conversion rates to assess the effectiveness of their onboarding flows and overall user journeys
  • Funnel Drop-off Rate: tracks the percentage of users who abandon the conversion funnel at various stages. It helps identify potential bottlenecks and points of friction in the user journey and suggests areas for optimization
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): calculates the cost incurred to acquire a new customer

4. Performance and efficiency metrics

Product teams need to analyze performance and efficiency metrics internally and with product ops to identify opportunities for optimizing operational efficiency. 

These reports focus on the technical aspects and operational performance of a product, including:

  • Server Response Time: measures the time it takes for your server to respond to user requests
  • Application Load Time: represents the time it takes for your product to load and become usable
  • Error Rate: tracks the frequency and occurrence of errors or issues faced by users while interacting with your product
  • Uptime and Downtime: displays the percentage of time your product is available and accessible to users (uptime) versus the time it is unavailable or experiencing issues (downtime)

5. Customer satisfaction metrics

This is where customer support teams, customer success managers, and product managers join their efforts. 

A customer satisfaction analysis report includes metrics that assess how users feel about their overall product experience:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): measures customer loyalty. Users need to rate their likelihood of recommending your product or service on a scale of 0-10. Based on their responses, customers are categorized as Promoters (9-10), Passives (7-8), or Detractors (0-6)
  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score: measures customer satisfaction. It typically involves asking customers to rate their satisfaction on a scale or provide feedback relating to specific aspects of their experience
  • Customer Effort Score (CES): measures the ease of doing business with your company, including using your product
  • Support Ticket Resolution Time: tracks the average time it takes for your support team to resolve customer issues or inquiries. For product teams, it’s also an indicator of the intuitiveness and usability of the product

How to turn your product data into reports for C-level executives

The last skill to master is communicating your reports to management and C-level executives.

1. Focus on high-level strategic insights

C-level executives are primarily interested in the big picture and strategic decision-making. 

When creating reports, focus on providing high-level insights that align with the company’s goals and objectives. Highlight key metrics and trends that directly impact the overall product strategy.

2. Simplify complex data into actionable summaries

You surely have a lot of product analytics data, but unfortunately, that’s not what C-level executives want to see. They want you to present your findings in a concise and easily digestible format. 

After covering the numbers, summarize and present your reports in the form of actionable insights and recommendations. Use clear and straightforward language to communicate your findings, avoiding jargon and technical details that may obscure the main message.

3. Present data visually using charts and graphs

Visualizing data through charts and graphs enhances understanding and makes it easier for executives to grasp important information quickly. 

Consider using tiles from your dashboards if it helps you present key points. 

4. Provide ideas for improvement and next steps

Go beyond data presentations and offer recommendations for improvements based on your analysis of the product data. 

Present ideas for optimizing performance, addressing challenges, and capturing opportunities. Include specific next steps and strategies that can be implemented based on the insights you’ve discussed.

Build customized product dashboards with Smartlook

Product analytics doesn’t have to be difficult. If you don’t overcomplicate your dashboards and stick to the “one objective=one dashboard” rule, it should be easy to obtain the necessary insights the moment you turn to your product data.

With Smartlook, you can build customized product dashboards effortlessly. We offer a user-friendly interface that enables you to turn your UX data into insightful visualizations and reports. 

Sign up for a free 30-day trial to see for yourself. 

Adelina Karpenkova
Adelina Karpenkova

is a freelance writer with a background in SaaS marketing. She loves discovering new product marketing strategies, gaining insights for product experts, and turning her knowledge into helpful content. When she's not writing, she plays tennis or knits cozy sweaters.

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