QUESTION: How Do I Avoid a Dashboard of Laundry-List KPIs?

by Stacey Barr |

Vicki N asks “I am on a project to create an ‘executive dashboard’ of KPIs. An advisory board has been formed to guide this effort. How should I approach this so we don’t end up with a laundry list of metrics that are not helpful/needed?”

Why don’t more people ask this question? They should.

laundry drying

Too many people confuse performance measurement with building dashboards. And sadly, the dashboard builders aren’t any wiser. So cynicism about performance measurement gets fueled with the frustrations of dashboard users blaming the builders for useless information, and the builders blaming the users for not being clear about what they wanted.

That’s because they all jumped the gun. To guide a truly successful dashboard project, it has to be planned as part of a solid performance measurement process. That process has 7 essential steps:

STEP 1: Define the audience and the goals or objectives they are trying to manage (and therefore need information to support them in doing this). You need context for any dashboard to be useful.

STEP 2: Translate the goals and objectives into measurable performance results. Wishy-washy, weasely-worded, up-in-the-clouds motherhood statements are impossible to monitor with even the world’s most fantastic dashboard.

STEP 3: Design meaningful measures for those measurable performance results, measures provide frequent, quantified evidence of the degree to which those results are being achieved. Good measures are the meat of good dashboards.

STEP 4: Test the buy-in that users have with the chosen performance measures. If they don’t feel ownership and excitement (yes, excitement) for the measures, that dashboard will fall very flat, very fast.

STEP 5: Make sure each measure provides a single version of the truth! Make no assumptions about how it should be calculated, what data is the right data to use, and so on. If the measure can’t be trusted, the dashboard will get the blame.

STEP 6: Think about how the measures need to be used, to tell the complete story of performance to their audience. They will want to know what performance is doing, why it’s doing that and how they should respond. They depend on the dashboard to answer these questions.

STEP 7: People generally don’t interpret performance information very well. They need to learn how to see true signals in their measures. And most dashboards, sadly, fail abysmally at this. Dials, gauges and pie charts suck. It’s time for dashboards to grow up and provide statistically valid information.

So, building the dashboard is only relevant from Step 6! Successful dashboards are part of performance management. They are not an end in themselves (however sexy they are).

TAKE ACTION: Don’t see your performance measurement projects as dashboard projects. Instead, plan the project around the entire performance measurement process. Otherwise you’ll end up where most people are: frustrated, misinformed and financially worse off.

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