It seems to me that informational business reports, even the idea of reports, has come under fire in recent years as the wrong way to circulate business performance data and metrics through an organization. The newer school of thinking posits that too often managers and executives find themselves chasing reports rather than acting upon those metrics that are “out of tolerance” and clearly in need of leadership action. They argue that a dashboard capable of real time reporting is the best solution where many metrics can be configured along with high and low tolerances and that the user need only focus on those items that have triggered alert statuses by violating those configured tolerance variance thresholds.
My perspective is this:
1. Any system that has people chasing data can be improved
2. Reports delivering data should be improved to reports delivering actionable insights
3. Dashboard, exception-based reporting is a great way to augment traditional reporting and create added urgency and focus on important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
4. The need for “traditional” reports does not go away even after you have added the best dashboard functionality possible
With the system capabilities available today, people should not be chasing reports. There are many ways to deliver reports: traditional posting to a specified location, email distribution, email link access, distribution as a task via task/execution management software, or near real time on demand reporting direct from your systems. Whatever your preferences or options, make it so that people are not chasing reports; but that reports are chasing people.
Delivering actionable insights is all about effective report design. In my opinion, it’s the difference between publishing a single data point versus a context for solid decision making. I’m an advocate of a “Track Record” style report that contains all the key KPIs that the business needs to create a single version of the truth around important metrics that indicate whether merchandising, marketing and customer satisfaction efforts are tracking well in the realm of customer behavior. To me, publishing last week’s values of these KPIs makes no sense. But publishing them within the context of the last 13 weeks, where trends become evident, is a whole different story. Add in trend comparisons: Year to Date, last 8-week average, and last 4 week average and the data becomes even more directional. Include projected values for the upcoming four weeks, and the data really starts to talk to a knowledgeable operator.
Which brings me to the dashboard and what it can do best: underscore, alert, and escalate concern on those KPIs that have drifted out of tolerance. Or the creation of summary metrics like a consolidated “Store Score,” “Performance Management Rating,” “Organizational Ranking Reports,” or other consolidated metrics. These are all good things that can enable performance management and personal accountability; so many good things, in fact, that I will speak more about it in a future blog.
But will dashboard exception-based reporting ever replace the need for well designed, KPI status reporting, especially those that contain a context for trend assessment and forward thinking? I think not. And the difference is quite simple: do you want to be notified when your car is already in the ditch, or do you want you and your team to stay informed, engaged, and energized by where you are going and how you are getting there – even when you are cruising down the highway to success?