In his famous book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins describes his research into eleven great companies that presented consistent outstanding results, compared to other companies that were in seemingly similar situation, but failed to achieve sustainable greatness. Collins describes the framework that he found in his research to have been at the heart of the transformation from good, or in some cases not so good, companies, into great ones. This framework, as you would expect, transcends companies and businesses in general, and can be extended into any field where excellence can be pursued.
At the heart of the transformation from good to great, argues Collins, you will find not technology, or fads, or superstar power. At the heart of greatness, you will find great people, who expect greatness from themselves and their surroundings, and who have the discipline to execute on a core idea for as long as it takes to achieve greatness. He uses colorful terms such as hedgehog concepts and flywheels to bring his ideas to life.
Collins makes two points that really caught my attention in relation to BI:
- Technology, his research argues, is never a sustainable change agent in the transformation from good to great. Technology, he found, can be an accelerating factor, but in essence, is merely a tool, used by disciplined people to achieve great results.
- The good to great companies had systems that allowed them to “raise red flags” and present not just information, but information that cannot be ignored. Thus, allowing management and employees to “face the brutal facts” and take a real and honest look at the reality of their business, in order to make real and good decisions, directly related to their reality.
I find the combination of these two points to be the essence at the heart of the dashboarding concept. Great dashboards are used by disciplined managers who look for factual data about their business in order to make decisions that keep their flywheel spinning in the right direction. This discipline drives them to not just commission dashboards to be constructed and showcased, but to actually use them, as often as needed, to understand their reality. It is a tool to raise red flags, literally, around problems that arise, and present the brutal facts, as derived directly from the underlying data, unfiltered or arbitrated.
When I look at my car dashboard as I’m driving, I make sure my sight is not diverted from the road for more than a split second. In that split second, I look for one, two or three pieces of information:
- how fast am I going (actually, how fast am I going in relation to the speeding limit, which our cars are not yet telling us),
- I might also look to see if I am getting close to being out of gas,
- and occasionally check if the engine is overheated.
- I also expect my dashboard to flash some red flag if something wrong is happening.
Modern car dashboards also house entertainment centers, GPS navigation systems, A/C and heat controls and much more. But these, and all the other controls built into the car dashboard are add-ons, and always come after the fundamentals are in place. So, when trying to create a great dashboard, consider these factors:
- Do you have a disciplined audience that would use the dashboard? What can you do to help instill this discipline?
- Do you have the “fundamentals” covered: how fast (in relation to the “speed limit”), gas situation, heat situation and other red flagged enabled
- Once you cover the basics, what other controls do you need to add to make the dashboard more functional and attractive
For example, maybe your business speed should be measured in terms of your pipeline. You need to understand what is your current sales pipeline (in relation to your delivery capabilities.
Your gas situation might be measured in your cash flow. Are your billings and collections at pace with your bookings and revenues?
Maybe your business temperature can be measured by your churn. How many people join or exit your company, what are your recruiting levels, and how does attrition look like?
And perhaps you should configure your dashboard to flash red flags in case certain operational measurements such as key vendor costs, or certain types of expenses breach a certain threshold.
If you manage to bring the key concepts of your business to life using a dashboard, you will likely achieve a great dashboard. And once you created a great dashboard, you can continue to add controls, navigation systems, entertainment centers and a whole slew of tools to help manage and tweak different aspects of your business, as long as you do it in ways that do not subtract from your kep concept.
*Good To Great is a registered trademark of Jim Collins.