10 Tips to Manage Reports and Dashboards in Salesforce

Lately I have been getting a lot of questions about best practices around reports and dashboards in Salesforce. Depending on the size of your company and salesforce instance, this can be easy to solve or rather complicated. But there are several things you can do as a Salesforce administrator to build a solid foundation on which all users can run reports, build dashboards and get answers to business questions. Here are my top 10 tips on how to make this manageable.

  1. Clean Data = Accurate Reporting

At Dreamforce this year, I met the VP of Sales of a relatively large company who jokingly said pointing to a dashboard “here is the Sales revenue for this quarter (if you trust what’s in salesforce)”. I cannot emphasize how important it is to build an organization where your users enter data accurately and/or you have a system to ensure data quality. If this is one of the issues you have, consider using data cleansing software by Data.com to clean up inaccuracies or duplicates. Your reporting is only as good as the data. Garbage in = garbage out and no one will trust your reports. You can get started with Data.com Clean here.

2. Identify User Needs

There are several types of organizational structures made even more complicated with role hierarchies and matrix relationships. If you are a new company starting to deploy salesforce, segment your users broadly into builders and consumers. Some sets of users will need create access, but others may only need to read/run reports and dashboards. Here at Salesforce, everyone has ability to create reports and dashboards, this can be good and bad in the long run. As long as only certain people have access to saving in public folders, it can work. If you let everyone build reports and save in public folders, it can be quite a nightmare in the long run. Start by building a framework and identifying needs early on, and if you are growing rapidly and adding new users, use the same framework to decide what the new set of users need.

3. Folder Management is Key

For a new salesforce deployment, this can seem trivial. But many organizations who have been using salesforce for a long time suffer from poor folder management decisions. Depending on what types of reports you are creating, you can bucket them by function or role. Some companies organize it as Sales, Marketing, Service, Operations. Others like to have leadership level reports in one folder, and another for manager level reports. Or some companies create National, Regional and Office level report folders. No matter what you pick, think long term scalability and avoid ad-hoc solutions. Proactively delete folders that are no longer being used.

Turn on Enhanced Folder Sharing: This is another recently released feature that allows more granular control over folders. At an individual folder level, you can now give access to view or edit. Grant Editor/Manager Access to folders as needed if the default Viewer access to folders does not meet your users’ needs.

Place reports used in shared/cloned dashboards in a folder where the dashboard running user has viewer permission. This prevents dashboard components from failing to refresh with message “Error: The source report isn’t available; it’s been deleted or isn’t in a folder accessible to the dashboard’s running user”. This also prevents users from drilling to source report and accidentally Saving or Deleting.

4. Think carefully about User Permissions

There are two ways to go about this, and I recommend a lean approach for this. The first approach of making it open for all users to create and edit reports and dashboards, will definitely give a sense of democratization of data. See how this resonates in your world. In some cases, this may be ok. As soon as you start seeing abuse of these rights, you can change it to read only. The second approach that many companies have taken is to keep it closed to a small group of users who know report types and allow only read access to everyone else. In addition, also consider the following tips —

  • Grant View Reports in Public Folders, Create Report Folders, Manage Reports in Public Folders, View Dashboards in Public Folders, Create Dashboard Folders and Manage Dashboards in Public Folders permission only to a select few users.
  • Grant Edit My Reports profile permission to profiles that have Create and Customize Reports permission. This would give users ability to edit, save, delete and move out reports they created in folders they only have “viewer” access.

5. Manage Report Types

This is a recently released feature and admins/ report creators love it since it get rids of unnecessary report types that result in bad reports being created. Just check the “Select Report Types to Hide” box and start hiding those report types if you don’t want users creating from those to start with. Keep the report type folder relevant for all users so that they start with the right one.

6. Let the Dashboard tell a Story

When building dashboards, think about the story you want people to take away. It is not about the metrics, but more about the actions that people can take while/after viewing the dashboard. Organize information in a way that is easy to process. For example, higher level metrics can be in the top row and drill down information can be one level lower. Or consider organizing all sales in one column, marketing in another and service in the third. When building a team dashboard, think about what you want managers to see first. Let the dashboard tell a story — like a newspaper, first highlights, then details.

7. Use Dynamic or Filtered dashboards as Appropriate

Consider building dynamic dashboards so users can run as another user and view the relevant information. Also apply filters at the dashboard level for different types of users to view what is relevant to them.

8. Rollout Salesforce1

Mobile is no longer an afterthought but a critical element to boost productivity. When building new dashboards, think about mobility and how users will consume these on smaller form factor devices. Are the columns organized in way that users don’t have to swipe columns back and forth? Is the information hierarchy easy to digest? Features like deeplink to dashboards are a great way to get your team aligned on metrics. Simply email or Chatter the url of the dashboard to your team, and when they tap on the link, it opens the app and takes them to the dashboard.

9. Provide In-Context Metrics — Embedded Charts

By simply adding one or two report charts to your page layout, you can provide real time, in context metrics to your users. For example, the account page layout can include Opportunities and cases for the month. The nice thing about this feature is that the report automatically filters by that account id. Instead of going to the reports and dashboards tab, users can view relevant metrics right on the record page and on Salesforce1.

10. Purge, Rinse, Repeat using Mass Delete

Mass delete Reports is available under Setup in addition to mass delete Records. Filtering options in Mass Delete allows you to get a list of all reports that have not been run in the last N weeks/months or similar criteria. Feel free to use this feature to clean up old, inactive reports.

Finally, keep in mind that every company will have unique needs based on the organization structure and reporting rigor. Try something first, and keep iterating to make it better. This post is the first of a series related to this topic. Stay tuned!