Almost 30 years since the introduction of the personal computer and the subsequent introduction of a plethora of networked devices, too many managers of private and public, large and small enterprises seem to rely on non-timely, accounting-dominated data, rarely in the form of accessible, actionable information, for management decision making. Why?
One of my first managers, somewhat tongue in cheek, used to tell me that he liked to let small problems become big ones because he liked to solve big problems. That was not Bud’s only philosophical oddity. Many managers, by design or by default, effectively operate like Bud. Sadly, not only is it generally ineffective, it is also stressful and expensive.
In 1985, I created my first management dashboard for a client, the general manager for a textile plant in South Carolina. The dashboard provided him with daily and week-to-date comparisons of actual versus planned performance for each of the plant’s operating and support functions by shift. In 1986, I provided the head of another processing facility in North Carolina with a similar dashboard. Neither of these dashboards were true balanced scorecards, formally introduced to the management vernacular by Frick and Frack in 199x, because in neither case did the view extend beyond the immediate facility to monitor, for example, environmental or customer metrics. In both cases, however, icustomer metrics beyond backlog and on-time delivery measures were beyond the control of the facility because sales and marketing reported to a separate, central location.
In 2007 and 2010, I had the opportunity to introduce gold mining clients in South America and West Africa to an electronic balanced scorecard application. In each case, the application pulled data from a variety of sources and formats and displayed data by shift, by day, by week, and by month with comparisons against plan and tabular and graphic displays of data available. In the 2007 example, the basic technology was Microsoft Excel and it was a prototype for the 2010 example.
The general manager of the gold mine in Ghana had reasonably good information available and wanted to improve the detail available while eliminating the one hour daily he needed to create his existing dashboard. The general manager in Chile wanted a tool to supplement his daily meeting with his management team; he did not have a self-created dashboard to replace. As crude and tedious as the monster Excel spreadsheet was, it was better than daily oral reports with limited written reporting from each department.
The ideal dashboard or balanced scorecard would focus managerial attention on indicators where performance warrants managerial attention. It would help distinguish an anomaly from a problem and a one-time episode from a trend. It would also provide insight and status on key goals and objectives along individual and organizational performance improvement initiatives. Although nobody seems to have such a dashboard, it would seem to have great potential for improving manager effectiveness.