Three Questions to Design Your KPI Reports

by Stacey Barr |

Unless your performance reports are focused on answering three critical questions, they’re likely to bore you sleep, lead you astray, or confuse the begeesus out of you.

Unless your performance reports are focused on answering three critical questions, they're likely to confuse the begeesus out of you. Credit: anyaberkut

Question 1: What is performance really doing?

This doesn’t mean what is performance doing today, or what did it do last week? It means what is performance mostly likely to keep on doing if it’s left alone? To answer this question, your performance measures need to be displayed in graphs that show the natural variability in performance over time. That’s a new concept to many people, but it’s so very simple to do it.

In your performance reports, XmR charts are the best way to display performance measures. These charts validly and visually flag the signals of true change in performance: a sudden shift, a gradual trend, a change in variation. To learn about XmR charts, get Donald Wheeler’s fabulous book “Understanding Variation: the key to managing chaos”. It’s written for management, it’s easy to understand and you can use this XmR chart for any type of performance measure that you track regularly through time.

Question 2: Why is it doing that?

When you see a signal in your performance measure, like a sudden shift in the wrong direction, it’s tempting to jump straight to solutions. Train staff… hire consultants… invest in technology… educate customers… write policies. But usually these “fixes” fail – you won’t see the performance measure respond very well, if at all.

Fixes fail when they aren’t designed to target the true causes that underly the signals we see in our performance measures. So it should go without saying that before you even think about a solution, you ought to have interrogated your measures and other related data to find out the cause behind the signal. This means analysing the work process that is being measured to identify potential causes, using data to verify which causes are correlated with the signal in your measure, and including a summary of this cause analysis in your performance report.

Question 3: How should we respond?

When you know the cause of the signal in your performance measure, you’re much more likely to look for the right solutions. But there’s more than one way to solve most problems, so performance reports that are most useful are ones that include some options for solutions, along with the pros and cons for each, so the report’s audience can make an informed decision about the best way to respond to the performance measure.


It might be time to take stock of your performance reports and see how well they answer these 3 questions. While you’re at it, find out from users how useful and how usable they feel the reports are. Then design a fresh performance report template based around the 3 questions.

This report design framework is detailed in Step 7 of PuMP, which you can learn via either the PuMP Blueprint Online Program or the PuMP Blueprint Workshop.

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