Performance Management

KPI Dashboard

WHO NEEDS DASHBOARDS STILL? An analogy with today's cars by Theo Goutier


Today managers and directors are craving for dashboards with the right KPI’s. Why is that and what do they hope to gain as all they need is a steering wheel and throttle to stay on the road. Is it because they lack vision, is it because they do not know which paths to take for their company or do they lack skills to manage to drive along the milestones?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Every new manager wants to understand and master the essential skills to eventually lead their company to great heights. I’ve been one, you have been too or still are. Numerous efforts have been, are and will be wasted on inventing KPI’s. In fact does anyone still know what the K stands for let alone the P? I’ve seen dashboards almost as complex as in airplanes.

I suggest dashboards to be kept simple so let’s do the analogy with an ordinary car today as in 10 years time we might not even know anymore how to drive ourselves.


Avoid Rear View Mirrors

Avoid 'Rear view mirrors'

What does a so-called dashboard really provide?

Most KPI’s on dashboards are lagging. Revenue, cost, service level, OEE or whatever. So looking back in time. Maybe only from last week but still. Just check your own car’s dashboard: does it look back?

Mine shows at least my current speed, the current rpm, the current fuel level and more cars nowadays the average speed, average fuel consumption and an estimate of how far I can still drive. One of the few leading indicators on it.  Based on that information I can decide to fuel up when and where that would be most convenient.

So most KPI dashboards resemble more of a rear-view mirror of the road behind us. Nothing we can change or we need to stop and back-up…nobody wants that. Surprisingly that is what managers do, scream and shout to their teams ‘why was this not invoiced?’, ‘why did we not deliver such and so on time or in full?’ or ‘why did the machine break down?’. Their dashboards would not have given any warning to help prevent this from happening. Nor will any new one…

How to drive your company ‘car’?

Most of us know how to drive a car. So when we get in the car what do we do? We first envision where to go and we usually know why too. Sometimes as simple as getting fresh bread to live. Some get in their car to win a race. Only few do that, maybe a lot pretend while sometimes jeopardizing their and other’s lives. Most companies want to be the best (fastest) . A lot of vision statements say so. But the why is often forgotten. Koch Industries in their guiding principles say that a vision needs to have explicitly stating the why and some indication of how to get there. Otherwise people will not be eager to jump in the ‘company cars’ assigned to them.

So I know I need to get fresh bread, because I’m hungry, and I know where to get it so I have prepared my trip. I’ll start the engine and take the wheel into my hands and push the throttle down gently. Obvious right? Not for managers. They feel pressured to get there first only to find the shop was not open or bumping into the next tree as they could not find the steering wheel.

Finding the wheel and the throttle

So we need to find the wheel and throttle and learn how to drive our company processes into the direction desired. This desire needs to be shared. A vision needs to be shared and crafted jointly to be believed and pursued. Again would you venture into the unknown without even knowing how to (learn to) operate your car? Well we do and that’s called trial and error and in safe environments we can learn and then gradually take more risks. In reality we want to be first and fastest so we do trial and error but with too much risk, ending up in our career burnt out or wrecking the company.

So we need to understand where to go, what car to take, how to drive it, when and where to fuel up, and then how to stay on the road accelerating as best as we can towards our goal. The first question really is how do you find where the wheel and throttle is of your company process (car) that you have gotten accountability for?

Would we still need or want dashboards  in our companies?

Today lots of companies are searching for Operational Excellence as in fact they need to and should know where the steering wheels and throttles are of their critical processes. Recently at a large US distributor we’ve implemented a weekly dashboard to ensure their company kept maximizing the income from
invoicing correctly and daily.

So it might feel like we do not need dashboards at all. But we do just as with your driving your car: look at them just enough to check if you are running out of gas or anything other needs attention. Look as much as you can far ahead to stay on the road and keeping everyone safe. Autonomous cars will be there way before we have processes in our businesses that can self-steer towards success.

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