This week on The Growth Whisperers Kevin and Brad talk about business dashboards, and how you should use them to make better business decisions. They talk about digital dashboards, analog dashboards and how to implement dashboards into your business, as well as how dashboards can fail. Also, they discuss how to use the weekly meeting to roll out dashboards with your team.
Finally, they discuss the 7 important things to consider when using dashboards in your business.
Using business dashboards make better decisions
Episode 45 – The Growth Whisperers
The Growth Whisperers is a weekly podcast hosted by Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence two advisors to mid-market businesses, one Australian, one Canadian, who each work with CEOs and Leadership Teams across the world with a mission to build enduring, great companies. Each weekly episode covers interesting situations and questions from the world of strategic planning, leadership development, talent and hiring in high growth entrepreneurial companies where real results matter.
Brad Giles 00:12
Hi, welcome to the growth whispers where everything that we talked about is building enduring great businesses today, as always, I’m joined by my co-host, Kevin Lawrence. And I’m Brad Giles. How are you doing today, Kevin?
Kevin Lawrence 00:25
You know, I am doing great. Got some great fresh air over the weekend. Life is always an adventure, which is great. You know, just like building a great company. Sometimes building a great life is always interesting and has interesting twists and turns. So yeah, it’s very good and, you know, we’re talking about twists and turns today in its own kind of special way.
Brad Giles 00:47
Uh-huh. Tell me more about that twist sentence.
Kevin Lawrence 00:51
Yeah, well, today we’re talking about dashboards. dashboards are a tool, you know, that really a simple tool to help you visualize how something is performing, and help you to manage the twists and turns because you kind of you understand how your equipment is performing. And you know, on on the weekend, last week, we were up doing this thing called snow biking, you know, a motorcycle or dirt bike with a ski on the front and a track on the back. insane amount of fun. But we’ve got dashboards, you know, all those guys out there are obsessed with our temperatures. So when we’re writing, we all have temperature gauges, because if the engines get too cold, it’s really hard on them, and we’re out in the middle of the winter. If they got too hot, you got a problem. So we’ve all got temperature gauges as an example, that we check, just to see, you know, how we’re doing, we also have to keep an eye on the fuel. Because of the fuel goes too low, you know, you get yourself another problem. So there, you know, dashboards are these simple tools that give us a sense of how something’s performing. And so that we can course-correct before there’s a catastrophe. That’s, interesting, today.
Brad Giles 01:58
That’s interesting because where I am, we’ve just come out of lockdown for COVID. And we’ve been looking at a dashboard. You know, the exit of the lockdown has all been based on the number or the case number if we get to a certain number of cases. So yeah, talking about dashboards and how dashboards create the right reaction or the right behaviour, they enable you to course-correct. So when you low on fuel to your point, you’re gonna find some fuel. I don’t really know what you do when the bike gets cold. But I certainly know what you do when it gets hot.
Kevin Lawrence 02:35
Yeah, well, you actually suppose you might drop it down a gear and actually work the engine a little harder. So it gets hotter? Or you send it back to the mechanic and get them to fix it. So it doesn’t, you know, hurt itself on an ongoing basis. But the key is that yeah, it’s an early warning system to help you to manage something notably better, instead of waiting for the catastrophe at the end. And that’s kind of the key point. And when we don’t we know them from our cars, we have them in aeroplanes, you know, companies have them many, many, you know, our phones are full of them, you know, I have an amazing dashboard for my own health from my, from my aura ring. Yeah, right, that it manages my sleep and my body temperature. And anyone heart rate and other things. So we are surrounded by them. And companies get all excited about these, yeah, we’re gonna get a dashboard. And it’s often a problem, or what we would call a cluster, it doesn’t eat all this amazing passionate enthusiasm upfront turns into a wasted investment at the end, and makes people’s jobs less easy, sometimes with all the right intention. So we want to share today with you some things that you can do to help make sure that if you have a dashboard, you make it better. Or if you’re thinking about setting up a dashboard, that you have a better chance of making it highly effective the first time.
Brad Giles 04:01
So let’s begin with what is a dashboard. So a dashboard, it’s a simple tool to visualize how something is performing. It’s an inflammation that is provided to an audience and the intent behind that or why we have one is to help you to course-correct in real-time before you get to an undesirable place. So that applies in the simple sense that we already mentioned around fuel so when your car gets low on fuel, you know that you need to go to the fuel station really, really simple stuff. But then we apply that in business as well to help our teams to perform better. And last week we spoke about the red amber green, also known as the Red Yellow Green by some people and how that tool is used, but today, we’re really speaking about the dashboards and portraying that information, but it doesn’t need to be digital. That’s a really important point. Yes. So then we step into, what is then we’ve got about, I guess, six or seven different key important things. So what’s the first one that we’ve got here, Kevin? To the dashboards?
Kevin Lawrence 05:23
Yes. Start with the end in mind, and particularly who is the user of this dashboard? And what decisions do we want to assist them? In making, right? And if you think about this in the context of a weekly meeting of a team, you know, as a place to start, so people will do this on a daily basis, even on a weekly meeting, what does that person or that team need to make the right decisions? So that we start from that point, not all the software can do this, or Oh, the consultant showed us all this cool stuff, it can do, you know, had a client that did a Salesforce implementation, I think they spent $3.5 million with the implementer on it. Oh, and the IT guy got an award. By the way, when it guys start getting awards, it’s usually a bad omen, because they’re trying to, you know, help you rationalize the money of blue with implementer. So $3.5 million, IT guy gets an award of your best implementation in Arkansas, or whatever the hell it was, wasn’t Arkansas. And we threw it in the garbage $3.5 million of cash, nevermind the time in the org because it got super excited about their awesome new toy and this awesomeness, and that awesome. And this report is going to talk to that report. And it’s going to do this and they will do a backflip and a somersault, and it could be submerged underwater all this stuff. And then the users went to use it. And it was a nightmare because they didn’t involve the user, the people who actually would be using it, in the end, we’re not in the middle of the project, which is insanity. Yeah. And so that’s why I get passionate about this, you can build these things all day long. And often they end up in the bin, because of the good intended of people in this case, but not deeply connected to the use case, or the user story or what the user needed. So number one, know the decisions. We want the user to be able to make, not the reporting the corporate wants, not how we’re going to control the world. How do we help that person do their job better and involve them in the conversation? So that’s the with it, don’t pass go until you can check this box.
Brad Giles 07:36
I’m just going to say a quick comment there. So we’ve got an Audi Q five, right. It’s a new car. And the dashboard is too much. Right? The other car that we’ve got is a little bit older. And it’s just got the standard analog dashboard, which is you’ve got a fuel gauge that goes up and down. You’ve got a tachometer, speedometer, the kind of things and it’s simple, and it’s easy to understand. But there’s so much complexity to the Audi. It’s like I don’t want or need all of that stuff. And that’s another way to think about what you’re saying. But you got to have the user in mind, right.
Kevin Lawrence 08:15
So that’s a funny thing. If you interested in just the last little car example. As you know, I’m a racer, and I’m a lover of Porsche’s. You know, the way Porsche is designed in the center of the instrument cluster for many, many years. In the center, all there is the RPM gauge, the speedometer is over there in the corner. So you have your RPM gauge to see how high you’re revving your engine. Because in a race, that’s all that matters. You don’t care about the speed number, you care about heart and you’ll have an engine. I think it’s a temperature, light, and oil pressure. So engine temperature, oil pressure, and the speedometer. Because in a race, that’s all the driver needs to focus on in that type of car, not f1. Cars are different. They have all kinds of adjustments. But it’s going back to the user racecar driver in an older Porsche 911. That’s all they need. So don’t give them all don’t distract them with stuff that’s not going to help them do their job.
Brad Giles 09:09
Yeah, great example. So it’s going to be simple. And it’s got to be for the user. And I really want to reinforce to the listener, like it’s not about technology. technology’s one way to do it. But it can be also analog. It can also be whiteboards or pieces of paper. So then we move from, once you understand what the end is, who is the user and what information do they need, on a regular basis to course-correct on then we move to draft a simple version of it. So before you roll it out, draft a simple version of it, and then begin to see what it will look like discuss it with the user and let the user be able to respond to that data on a regular basis. And I would say probably at the weekly meeting is a good place to start
Kevin Lawrence 09:58
unless they’re using it on a daily basis. If it’s a production environment, whatever that environment is, let the user use it and work with it. Because users usually want more information than they need the support, people are often happy to build it, because it makes it cool. So let them work with it for a while, in a simple, we would call it MVP, minimum viable product. Now, it’s likely in Excel, or on a whiteboard, you know, something insanely simple. And then after a while, you’ll start to see, hey, this data is helpful that isn’t, and you’ll calibrate it, you’ll maybe change the source of the data or the formula, and over time, you’ll start to work. And that’s, it’s real simple. But then the three is to keep in mind as you’re going through this to try and keep it really simple. And it’s truly less is more. And I’ve seen these dashboards and reports that have so much and it becomes a lot. So generally, if we’re looking at a team level, you know, what are their top five goals, and how they’re progressing on their goals, and, and top five to 10 numbers that really matter, you know, operations, part of the business normally has closer to the 10 numbers. Now the finance team might have five sales and marketing might be in the seven to 10. But really the numbers that matter most to help them, you know, guide themselves on how they’re doing the job. So and being careful with throwing everything else in there that you can do. The question is, what must we have to make the right decisions?
Brad Giles 11:30
it’s about constraints. It really is. Think about it. I come back to whiteboards again. If you had a whiteboard, in your boardroom or in your office, it has constraints of the edges. So with those constraints, what would be the information that you put on there? I remember about 10 years ago, could be nine years ago, in Perth, we had this event called the Great hail storm. So it was an enormous hail storm that swept through the city. And, you know, the hail was larger than golf balls, and it destroyed so many cars, like it was enormous damage. And so all of the cars were driving around afterwards with these massive divots in all of the paintwork that needed to be repaired. And mine was one of those cars, I remember taking it to the insurer, and then to the body shop. So there were insurers who set up specifically in our city repair shops just for this event it was so big. And so I remember going there and seeing these whiteboards with every car that was due to come in, that was coming in when it was going out. And it had the registration and the key points and the key elements, the point is, there would have been, I would say 100 cars that were on that whiteboard, and all of the information that anybody from the insurance assessment to the person who’s painting knew every single bit about every single car at a glance. And that’s an example of a constrained good whiteboard Potomac dashboard.
Kevin Lawrence 13:21
Yeah, and it’s about keeping it simple. And I’ve seen companies that have, you know, 20 customers that want to go build out a massive dashboard system when they have 25 customers, and they probably don’t need it, there’s a simpler solution than spending six months to implement something. So great, great thinking. So then after you’ve got you know, those key things, you the must-have to make good decisions. Then after a few months of abuse, and you got you really got this thing working, you know what you need, you’ve got those top things, it’s really working. Well, now there’s an opportunity to really seriously digitize this or automate it. You don’t want to automate it upfront. Because automated junk is still junk. It’s the right you got to make sure it’s high value. And that takes a few months of use to sort it out. And it’s again, this is a layering process step by step. So then you can look at auto automating it or and doing that. And there are lots of things that you know, there’s ones that we’ve talked about, like Brett and I on Power BI a bunch of clients use some people take Excel and build all kinds of things into Excel. There are custom systems. You know, there’s specific software that some people use and, you know, many clients have used lots of different platforms. But they’re only good once you’ve gone through those, those other steps. And the thing I’ll remind you is, you know, it’s about simplicity, you know, one of the companies that we work with, they hired a key exec from Walmart. And this woman ran a couple of billion dollar division of Walmart in us a couple billion with a B. Almost everything in her department was done on Google Sheets. Like basic Google Sheets, no fancy software’s no automated reports, it was, you know, they had, they built a pretty sophisticated report in Google Sheets, but they had it. so damn simple. So the data doesn’t need to be automatically pulled from somewhere, you can have an administrative person input it for, you know, an hour of their time every week, if they have to pull it from manual sources, they don’t overcomplicate it, having a manual intervention is still okay, as long as the user gets the information they need consistently, so they can make some of the right decisions. So the key point here is that once it’s proven, and you found valuable data that the team can use on a regular basis, then you can find a tool to help automate it, digitize it. And that can be really valuable. As long as it doesn’t slip into and start to disappear in the back of someone’s computer. It’s still used on a regular basis.
Brad Giles 16:00
The risk here, the major risk is that we get too much information and it’s unusable. We want the things that are worth talking about. So if it’s not something that you’re going to discuss at the weekly meeting, then my question is, then why would you have it on a dashboard? So sales numbers for the last week, you probably wouldn’t want to talk about that at a weekly meeting. Right? Yeah. If you’re running employee Net Promoter Score once a year, you probably might not want to have that on a dashboard. Right?
Kevin Lawrence 16:32
No, you might put it in your quarterly financial pack if you’re updating it, but it doesn’t need to if the number doesn’t move, or you don’t have many data points, it’s useless. It would be in a monthly report, quarterly report, annual report.
Brad Giles 16:47
Yeah. So think about it like that, if you’re not going to talk about it at the weekly meeting, and why would you put it on a dashboard? It’s not worthy of your time there. So what do we got next?
Kevin Lawrence 16:58
Yeah, basically, you just got to make sure and I guess it kind of what you’re talking about. And then point number five is ensure the data is relevant and updated, relevant to the meeting. If it’s a daily meeting, updated daily, if it would be used on a live basis, live updates are awesome. You know, there’s some dispatch systems that company have that where it’s live, absolutely live in the moment, and the team uses it to manage their workload, a courier company work with a very awesome live dispatch system with live dashboard, it was awesome. But the key is that it’s got to be kept relevant and updated if it’s not all automatic. Otherwise, people can’t use it to make decisions. And then all of a sudden, the tool is gonna fade into the background. So it, it needs to be someone’s accountability to make sure that it’s updated, because most companies, it’s not fully automated once they initially started.
Brad Giles 17:50
Yeah. So begin with simple people updating and don’t, get enamoured by the, by the potential that technology has to do everything. Because so often, it’s not that I remember, there was one client that I work with, and they had a whiteboard on the office wall, and it was the salesperson’s numbers, but it wasn’t updated. And so I made a really simple suggestion, which is, well, why don’t we write on there and get the sales manager to write on there, how many calls or meetings they had that week, which was intended to be a part of it. And that process of updating each week through the quarter made a huge difference in terms of making that a more functional dashboard.
Kevin Lawrence 18:40
Yeah, and sometimes when you’re getting started, the person updating it is the person that owns the number, not the technology person or the admin person, they come to the meeting prepared to update their number, they might update the whiteboard, or they might update the digital tool before they enter. And then you can keep the accountability on the owner of the number. So it’s kind of takes us into number six, which is I think, the glue that makes the system work. And he got to make sure we’ve talked about how it’s it would be used in your regular meeting rhythms. But the key is, is that it does. So when we go to look at the numbers. If you have a dashboard, and there’s no regular time where people stand around, look at it, analyze it and discuss it. It’s a waste of time. It’s just information that is useless. What’s up. It’s a piece of artwork. It’s a piece of artwork, and I don’t know, I think there’s cheaper artwork, we can buy cheaper and prettier artwork. So the key is that it needs to be in the meeting. Okay, boom, pull up the dashboard. Let’s go through this one. Ideally, they’re all red, yellow, and green or red, Amber green, as per our last week’s podcast, and that it creates a discussion of the discussion can be five minutes, it’s okay. But if it’s not used by the team for review and decision making on a regular basis, it’s going to fade away into the background. Yeah, that is critical. And the companies that one company worked with has done amazing work with Power BI, they have spectacular reports. And they’re used all the time like those reports are used by the different departments in their regular weekly meetings to see how they’re doing and recalibrate. So the key is, it’s got to be being touched, used, and decisions made because of it on a regular basis. Or you’re misguided in what you’re doing.
Brad Giles 20:29
And then the question is, finally, how can you prune? How can you maybe which part of the dashboard be digital or not digital isn’t being discussed or used regularly. And maybe you could try a new piece of data in that area, and something that you will talk about. So spring clean, go back, eliminate the useless data and reports that aren’t being used, make it fresh, and make things that people will talk about on a regular basis?
Kevin Lawrence 21:02
Yeah, and remember, less is more like you mentioned, the word pruning, prune off the stuff that either doesn’t change isn’t used or isn’t meaningful, or maybe it goes to a monthly or a quarterly report. And getting back to what do we need again, go back, go from your Audi with 27 different lights down to the Porsche that’s got a tachometer. And conceptually, how do you have the least you need to do an excellent job because remember, the dashboard is not everything, you can always dig in and get additional numbers and information. But it should, you know, give us the insights we get, we say we need to make good decisions on a regular basis. Like I got, I got an advisory board meeting tomorrow morning with a company I’m working with for years, I got the reports through yesterday, we have a dashboard, a very simple dashboard in its red, Amber and green, just like Brad just talked about, it’s awesome, I can go through that part very quickly, I could read selected parts of the financial pack. And I know exactly what’s going on, it’s very easy. Now there’s a 50 page deck behind it. So other information can still exist, it doesn’t need to be every bit, it’s the most important high-level things that we need to make decisions So it’s real simple, the thing I think I want people to really get is dashboards are very powerful. But unfortunately, people do too much too fast, before it’s really getting consumed by the teams. And it can easily become wonderful artwork, cool TV that people get excited about, but then never look at it again. And we want to implement tools that help us to improve our businesses.
Brad Giles 22:45
Yeah. So it’s not a job for it to just take on and run. Like we’ve got to start, if we go back to the beginning, we’ve got to start with what is it that you need it to do begin putting it on paper, or on a whiteboard, and then apply that into the meeting rhythm and kind of validate it. Number two was draft a simple version of it and see if it’s getting the insights that we want. So we’ve tested it, and we’ve tested it again. And then we want number three was considered having less is more, everyone wants more and more and more, especially in the tech area, look at the constraints that you can have. And the suggestion there was it was not worthy of talking about at the weekly meeting, then don’t have it on your dashboard, after a few months of use. And take the simple version that you have in analog format, and try to make that digital if you so desire, putting it into tech. But you should already have a substantial amount of data that you can validate and why you’re doing it and how you get that data. I’m fine, ensuring that it’s relevant and updated in a timeframe. We do not want to have KPIs in a dashboard that’s been sitting around for a long time. I months, we want it to be relevant and talked about weekly iterations are always the best. Again, to reinforce that its part of the weekly meeting rhythms or the daily for some organizations. So it’s got to be a part of the day of the meeting rhythms. Don’t let it become a piece of artwork or wallpaper. And then finally, prune. Make sure that you regularly trim your dashboards. So thanks for listening. This has been a quick podcast today. But yeah I think still important.
Kevin Lawrence 24:44
Yeah, dashboards can add a lot of value. And they can also cause a lot of ways. So thank you for listening. This has been the growth whispers podcast with Brad and I’m Kevin. For the video version, go to youtube.com and look up the growth whispers for Brad evolutionpartners.com.au and for myself, Lawrenceandco.com. Have an awesome week. See you next week.
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