The Dashboard Relationship

[Post by Chuck Krugh, March 14, 2023]

Once upon a time, as a young senior manager in another business, I started my journey using dashboards. I was introduced to the idea during one of my MBA classes and was intrigued by how well it conveyed information. Also, I liked the idea of having a dashboard of key performance indicators (KPIs) at my fingertips to help manage the business.

Remember, the reason that we measure KPIs is to learn where in our business we are having trouble so we can fix it. If our team is blocked, then they either can’t build at all or are building inefficiently. As a leader, I never want my team held up by a roadblock. As I mentioned in the leadership blog, our job as leaders is to clear roadblocks so our team can run!

So back to my first dashboard. Like a kid with a new toy, I couldn’t wait to try it out.

At the time, I was responsible for one department that included several trades. It was fairly straightforward as I had one team to measure – mine. For me, the metrics were easy to assign, scoring only one team was relatively easy and the dashboard spoke to not only me but also to my supervisors. Win-win!

It’s funny when I look back now, setting up that first dashboard, I tried to measure everything that I could dream of on that one sheet. My first dashboard looked like I smeared ketchup, mustard and relish all over the page. What a meaningless mess. It took most of my day to update, and it was just too much effort for the value I got out of it. It was unreasonable to think that it would work – but it sure was a masterpiece.

I’ve always considered myself a fast learner – this case was no exception. After some trial and error adjusting the dashboard to get the right information on there, I realized that a little was a lot. In other words, measuring the right KPIs would add value. Knowing both the right number of KPIs and the right ones to measure came over time, working with the team.

In time, my sophistication using the dashboard increased. I also gained more areas of responsibility. I added dashboards for these new teams because each dashboard helped me identify areas that needed work and areas that were operating well. As I added new dashboards, I had to figure out how to combine them in a way that made sense. At first, I tried to solve it like a math problem, but it didn’t always work or it became too complicated.

I began looking at the relationship between the KPIs instead of going to the math right away. This was a little squishy for me at first because I like things to be straightforward, logical and orderly and to have symmetry. But by thinking about the relationship first and then trying to solve the math, it became easier to cascade the dashboards for each of the levels I was responsible for.

The relationship?  It’s all about how the KPIs relate to one another. Remember, our first dashboard is the viz-board. We take a simple measure of our area’s daily success based on five KPIs – Safety, Quality, Schedule, Cost and People.

For example, looking at Safety, we measure “Whether we were Safe,” the day before – not how many incidents we had (that’s a different KPI). The “Whether we were Safe” KPI changes color based on one injury. If we had one injury, then the KPI (the small circles in “S”) will have one block colored RED for the day. If we had 10 injuries (I hope not!), then the block will still be colored RED. That particular KPI doesn’t change based on the number of occurrences. Make sense?

So, what happens when we cascade up the KPI to the next dashboard? We have to set up a rule. The rule (or logic) for the Safety KPI on a dashboard that brings together data from five areas may look like this:

  • RED Safety KPI if two of the five dashboards have RED (meaning two areas of the five areas had an injury)
  • YELLOW Safety KPI if one of the five dashboards have RED (meaning one area out of five areas had an injury)
  • GREEN Safety KPI if zero of the five dashboards have NO RED (meaning all safe)

After establishing a rule base for the relationship, we now have the math problem solved. This example is pretty simple and straightforward; however, the process is the same for managing all of our KPIs.

My best advice for using dashboards is to just start. Establish a KPI that is consistent with the viz-board categories and add to them. The worst thing that can happen is you end up with a messy piece of paper like I did when I started, but you will learn a lot about your business doing it. Clear the way!!

Next week, I want to expand on leadership. Being the best leader you can be is so important in life and at work. Until then, see you on the deckplates!

Safely Execute High-Quality Work

President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

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