We’ve all been there. You’re participating in a meeting with the executive team—or someone tells you about it. The CEO, CFO, CIO, or another influential person looks at the management reports and analysis and says, “That’s it! This information is garbage! The data is inaccurate. Our teams don’t agree on what the right answer is—and I don’t have the information I need to make decisions! No one seems to understand how their job ties in with our strategy!” The conclusion: “We need a dashboard!”
Predictably, everyone leaves the meeting with a new mandate. The finance team must determine whether the company can find the funding for this initiative. The IT team starts inviting software vendors to perform preliminary technology reviews; and there is hushed conversation at the water cooler about “The Dashboard” and how it will solve every company problem.
You have been assigned to run this project. You work with a team to start envisioning what the dashboard can do. You may begin a rapid-prototyping project, host workshops, and conduct interviews. You may even begin developing a working pilot so you can demonstrate the fruits of your labor to the executive team for feedback and buy-in. Everyone seems to get stuck in the details of the report displays, but no one seems to be any happier than when the whole initiative started. Something’s missing— and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
What happened? The term “dashboard” became equivalent to “Holy Grail.” Most dashboard teams pursue the mystical, far-off goal of creating a dashboard that does everything for everyone—providing a view of progress towards a strategy for executives, as well as monitoring and measuring operations for everyone else—without using a framework to create a common language to communicate, measure, and manage strategy across the organization.
We address this typical stumbling block by analyzing the leading performance management and quality frameworks, including the Balanced Scorecard, Performance Prism, Six Sigma, Baldrige, and commonly accepted financial and economic indicators such as economic-value added (EVA). We also offer a guide to the methodology that works best for specific dashboard initiatives.
Why You Need a Framework
Most people go on a diet at some point in their lives. How do most of us measure the success of a diet? Usually it’s whether we’ve lost weight. This, however, is the reason most diets fail. Most of us forget to focus on building muscle mass and exercising more, which helps to burn fat more efficiently, which eventually really helps us to lose weight for a sustained period. In other words, we measure what is simple to measure, not what is always important.
Most dashboards are approached the same way. We go after data that is easy to source and populate, which means we end up with a mishmash of data that may or may not be interrelated, which may not tell a story, and which does not drive the leadership team or front-line business people to make decisions. A good example of the chaos this creates is captured in a remark from the managing director of DHL UK about his previous performance system, which to him used to feel like “playing the numerical crosswords. ... The board used to spend all of their time ... trying to join up the pieces of the numerical jigsaw they were presented with. Individual directors would be looking at performance reports trying to draw spurious correlations between different events to offer explanations for unusual observations.” (Neely, 2003)
To prevent this confusion, your organization needs a way to tie the data and information on the dashboard to strategy, no matter what kind of dashboard you are building.
Sun Tzu in The Art of War captures the implications of the difference in approach: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
This article excerpt appears courtesy of TDWI and originally appeared in TDWI’s Business Intelligence Journal, a Member only publication. To learn more about Membership and how to access additional articles please visit www.tdwi.org.