Picture Performance in a Dashboard

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24033360When you are driving down the road, a quick glance at your car’s dashboard gives you a lot of information.  In an instant, you know how fast you’re going, how much fuel you have remaining and whether the engine is overheating.

Your dashboard tells you the total miles the car has been driven and often, the mileage of this particular trip. Your peek at the dashboard allows you to see the time of day, whether your lights are on (or bright) and if the turn indicators are flashing.  All this information is available by a fleeting look at the dashboard.

Benefits of using organizational dashboards include:

  • Visual presentation of performance measures
  • Ability to identify and correct negative trends
  • Measure efficiencies/inefficiencies
  • Ability to generate detailed reports showing new trends
  • Ability to make more informed decisions
  • Align strategies and organizational goals
  • Save time over running multiple reports
  • Gain total visibility of all systems instantly

Questions we need to ask to identify the key measures you need to track in order to determine the health and vitality of your organization?

  • How often do we need to update the dashboard?
  • What would be the best way to represent/display those measures?

One of the advantages of using a “dashboard” to track organizational performance is that it is designed by you and your team rather than some external control.  Because you build it, it contains the measures that make sense to you.  Some indicators, like a speedometer, provide real-time data that measures the results of performance at any given time.  Some, like an odometer, measure cumulative progress.  Others, like warning lights, indicate a big threat or brewing problem.

Dashboards are based on two assumptions. 

First, good management depends on good measures.  Without good feedback on performance you cannot monitor progress toward a goal and there is no way to learn.

Second, measurement has no meaning without good interpretation and judgment.  You can measure anything.  You either count it or you judge it.  “Dashboards” provide a visual way for the organization to count and judge those key indicators that let you know you are headed in the right direction.

The automobile dashboard metaphor makes sense as long as you keep it simple (e.g., speedometer, gas gauge, temperature, oil pressure).  It becomes a burden when it looks like the cockpit of a 747.  Some of the best indicators on your dashboard are simple excel spread sheets and graphs.

Here are some examples.

Radar Chart:  The Radar Chart allows you to monitor performance on several measures.  If several people are providing data or judgment on the measures, you can show the average score or the range of scores showing the variances in agreement.

Run Chart:  The Run Chart allows you to study performance for trends or patterns over time.

Pie Chart:  The Pie Chart shows how several measures are a part of a larger whole—share of a budget, breakdown on gender, or age, or education, etc.

Other indicators include Bar Charts, Scatter Grams, Histograms, Matrix Diagrams, the list goes on.  Just pick the one that you can use to best illustrate the data important to you.

Steps in Building a Dashboard:

First, develop a set of indicators.   This begins with a clear and shared understanding of your goals.  Then ask each team member to develop two or three gauges that he or she considers most effective for monitoring his or her function area.  Be open to hard and soft measures.  Hard measures you can see and count.  Soft measures are less obvious and require a judgment call.

Second, combine the measures into a dashboard and ask yourself if your “critical” objectives are included—if not add them.

Third, once you have all of the potential measures, ask yourself, “If we could track only five or six, what would they be?”  The point is to avoid having too many indicators and indicators that are not critical to the success or failure of the organization.  These five or six now become your leadership team’s dashboard.

Finally, check your measures often.

You have three opportunities to solve a problem.

1. When you think of it, usually during the planning phase when you ask yourself, “What could go wrong, how would we know, and what could we do about it.”  This is always best.

2. When you detect the problem, usually because you are measuring and looking at those measures—the dashboard.

3. When the problem hits you in the face.  If you wait till until it hits you in the face, the solution may be even worse than the problem.

The sooner you solve a problem the better.  One advantage of having a good performance dashboard in place is that it helps you detect and solve problems early, before they hit you in the face.

If you are looking for help in creating performance dashboard, try these:  Balanced Scorecards & Operational Dashboards with Microsoft Excel by Ron Peterson, and Excel 2007 Dashboards & Reports for Dummies by Michael Alexander.