Turn your business dashboard into a cockpit

About 5 years ago I was first exposed to the buzz associated with performance management dashboards.  They seemed like a neat concept – a way to collect, summarize, display and manage by a highly-tuned set of business performance metrics across a complex enterprise.  Dashboards have been touted as giving managers near real-time insight into the heartbeat of the company – and who wouldn’t love that?

I remember the day when a client (who I was helping with some product portfolio and platform decisions and roadmaps) began calling their management dashboard a cockpit.  I was looking through some concept slides that used a fighter jet cockpit metaphor when I asked “I see the gauges, but where’s the joy stick?”  The mockups showed lots of gauges and status indicators representing performance metrics, but there were no control knobs.  A cockpit with no controls is just a dashboard monitoring the impending crash…

Decisions are the controls for your business.  The future of your business depends on making a network of strategic future-creating decisions visible and actionable like knobs on a control panel.  Decisions are the mechanism by which human beings integrate the inputs from many sensors (or projections/estimates) and commit to a course of action which changes the future.  You don’t drive your car by watching and directly adjusting 20 or 30 engine parameters; you operate a set of controls that govern your acceleration, steering, etc. at a higher level and use an algorithm to control the relevant parameters for each user action.  So there will almost never be a 1-to-1 relationship between a performance metric on a management dashboard and the actions that you would take (decisions to make) to control that parameter.

There are a few other problems with using the dashboard metaphor:

  • There’s a huge time-lag between a decision made concerning your core competencies, business model, target markets, platform strategy or product portfolio and the effect on your business performance.   A fighter pilot who yanks the joystick gets almost immediate response from the plane; business decision-makers may have to wait 6, 12, 18 or 24+ months to see the outcome of their strategic decisions.
  • Strategic decisions don’t just steer or reroute an existing vehicle; they actually transform a car into a pickup truck into a helicopter into a flying saucer as it “rolls” down the road.  Operational decisions may control the vehicle (business) that is; strategic decisions redesign and rebuild the vehicle as it moves.

A Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS) “control panel” can be rapidly constructed for any business from a set of proven decision patterns.  Every decision has the same information model (decision, criteria, alternatives, performance estimates, etc.); if you can turn one decision knob you can turn them all.  This allows you to build a real cockpit that combines the dashboard gauges with the controls.   For operational steer-the-car decisions, this can provide timely and useful feedback.

Strategic decisions are a tougher problem that break the cockpit metaphor.  You can manage these decisions to support massively parallel and aligned thinking and shorten the time-lag between the point of decision and its outcomes.  However, this will always be too slow to approach real-time control and doesn’t address how you will drive (or fly) the car (or pickup, helicopter, or flying saucer) as it evolves through your decisions.

I encourage you to build a performance management cockpit for your operational decisions, but your strategic decisions will always call for a different management paradigm.

Your first step in taking control is building a DBS with a set of decision control knobs for your business. You can start to learn how to do this by requesting a Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) trial today. Please contact the Decision Driven® Solutions team at trial@decisiondriven.com or solutions@decisiondriven.com.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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