Five Steps For a Fast Performance Dashboard

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.

a PuMP performance dashboard

To get the dashboard project moving again, five simple steps are all you need. Let’s explore them…

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. And just build the first iteration with a focus on two or three priority performance results or goals.

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 PuMP’s 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, PuMP’s 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 using PuMP’s Measure Definition template, and keep these 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. I know that he’s since left the organisation. Doesn’t it make you shudder?

My performance dashboard is built in Microsoft Excel, which for my company of one person, is inexpensive and easy. But most importantly for me, is that it links to a single core database for all my business data, with queries for each KPI that update at the click of a button.

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.

And if you know what they are, use XmR charts instead.

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 achieving those results. That’s one of the 5 principles of designing useful and usable performance reports.

And that brings us to the point where we can actively monitor a few of our most important KPIs. It gives us the chance to finetune our dashboard, and then move on to adding KPIs for a few more priority performance results or goals. A fast performance dashboard, therefore, isn’t about rushing… it’s about iteration.

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