Five Steps For a Fast Performance Dashboard

May 17, 2011 by Stacey Barr

Many (most?) performance dashboard projects get stalled because people jump the gun and focus too much on the whiz-bangery of the dashboard application and don’t give anywhere near enough thought to the choice of measures and information worth dashboarding.

To get the dashboard project moving again, five simple steps are all you need:

line chart dashboard

STEP 1: Focus only on your top 2 to 3 priority performance results.

Stop trying to do it all at once, perfectly. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s momentum-dampening. You’ll get to success sooner by taking the quick and easy route to set up simple, bare-bones dashboards that do the job with inexpensive applications like KPI Dashboard, Tableau and even Microsoft Excel. Once you’ve finished these 5 steps for these first priorities, focus on the next 2 to 3 most important performance results, and keep building and improving in bursts.

For my own business, I use a Results Map to capture all the performance results that make up my strategy, and it helps me to work out the most important ones, the results that are pivotal to success and need to be measured first and foremost.

STEP 2: Choose a few performance measures for those priority results.

There’s no prize for using all the KPIs you can think of to track a particular performance result. In fact, there’s a penalty and it’s your attention being spread too thin to make any kind of performance improvement at all, or your attention being pulled away from your unique priorities. Think narrow and deep. Go for the truly relevant and insightful performance measures.

If I ever get stuck and can’t figure out what the best measures are for a performance result, the five-step Measure Design template works a treat. It makes you think about what your result really looks like in tangible terms, and that’s the key to finding the right measures.

STEP 3: Define exactly how those priority measures are calculated, and from what data.

Lame measure names won’t cut it. “Customer Loyalty” isn’t a performance measure. “The percentage of customers who have purchased from us more than 3 times in the past 6 months” is a measure. One of the biggest time-wasters in setting up a performance dashboard is trying to figure out exactly how the measures should be measured. That sounds tautological, and it is. If you can’t figure out how to measure something with real data, then it ain’t a measure yet!

Before I build my dashboards, I define each of my performance measures and keep these definitions in a Performance Measure Dictionary.

STEP 4: List the data sources for priority measures, and set up links in your dashboard to that data only.

A lovely man named Siva once had dozens (some say hundreds) of special spreadsheets where very key performance measure data was kept for a freight business. Only he knew how the spreadsheets worked, and where they were saved on the server. And I think he has sinced retired (or won’t be far off). Doesn’t it make you shudder?

My performance dashboard is built with Tableau software, inexpensive and easy, but most importantly for me, able to link directly to my core business database. When my assistant updates my business data each month, my dashboard updates automatically. Love it!!

STEP 5: Systematically create the graphs in the dashboard for each priority measure, and arrange them on a single dashboard.

Forget silly dials and gauges. Forget pie charts and 3-D bar charts. (Even though it’s near impossible to find an example dashboard without these useless gizmos!) The most effective way to monitor your performance measures is with a line chart that tracks changes over time. That’s what you’re managing when you manage performance: moving performance closer and closer to target as time goes by.

I arrange my performance measure line charts onto my dashboard in segments that correspond to my priority performance results. After all, you’re using the measures to know if you’re acheiving the results. That’s one of the 5 principles of designing useful and usable performance reports.

TAKE ACTION:
Whether you choose Tableau, KPI Dashboard, your existing dashboard/scorecard application, or even just Microsoft Excel, use these five steps and bring your most important KPIs to life *this week*. As Dr Poh, one of my readers, recently emailed me, “If not I, then who? If not now, then when?”

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  1. Eric Scheetz says:

    At conferences, I visit vendors with expensive dash board solutions. I will follow Stacy’s advice and try the less expensive ones before considering others.
    Thanks Stacy

  2. Stacey Barr says:

    Eric, you’re welcome. I truly believe in the adage that less is more.

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