Make Your Business Reviews Better with ASE Dashboards

This post will highlight some ways dashboards in ActiveStrategy Enterprise (ASE) software can make your monthly business reviews smoother, more effective, and a lot less stressful to prepare for.

Let’s first set up the basic scenario. You have all of your strategic performance metrics in the system. Your boss sees that several critical performance metrics are under-performing (the software is displaying red or yellow stoplights next to each of them). Of course, these measures need to be reviewed as soon as possible to determine what sort of corrective actions are in place–or should be put in place–to reverse the negative trends.

This type of review (having a constructive, data-driven discussion about areas of your scorecard that are under-performing) is what we call a business review (your organization might call these something else like “state of the business” or “major initiative review” meetings). Whatever you call them, these typically involve spending days or even weeks gathering lots of data, talking to all of the various departments or people who might be contributing to the measures, preparing a massive slide deck that summarizes all of the trends, provides reasons for under-performance, and explains what actions are in place or will be soon. Then you have to hope that what you prepare will be on-target enough to answer your boss’s questions.

This scenario can be much different if you’re using ASE software during your reviews. Ahead of the meeting, you just need to be sure that you and your team have all of your measure data up-to-date, initiative status reports complete, and variance reports filled in (which should already be done since the system will remind you to do so whenever these items are due).

If you haven’t already created a dashboard or briefing book that pulls together the data for this particular review discussion, you can create one within just a few minutes by linking the relevant scorecards, measures, initiatives, and commentary together into the view you prefer. Once you have it the way you’d like it, it will automatically refresh and display the most recent versions of everything you linked to it every time you open it. (Compare that to creating a new PowerPoint deck with linked Excel charts and tracking down project status updates from dozens of people by email and umpteen phone calls.)

When it’s time for the review, instead of pulling up your slide deck, you just go to a web browser, bring up your dashboard or briefing book, and display it on a projector. Because you’re live in the system, you’ll always be a click away from more information. Need to drill into top-level sales and see which product lines are lagging? Need to find out why on-time delivery has plummeted in your primary product line? Curious to see how this has affected new order rates and customer complaint rates? Or perhaps your boss asks questions that take you down a totally different path to see if new products in the pipeline are stalled and why? With just a few clicks you can explore your entire hierarchy of performance measures, dig into root causes, see who is responsible for performance, and what’s happening to fix it.

ASE has many tools that let you view performance in different ways, including Briefing Books, Visual Maps, Scorecards and Dashboards. For this post, let’s take a look at this snapshot of a dashboard.

This dashboard is displaying a Balanced Scorecard on the left and key charts on the right.  The layout is easy for any user to change. The scorecard, on the left, is displaying the perspectives, objectives, and measures that have been linked.  One click can also display any linked improvement initiatives directly under the objective or measure to which they are linked.

After a quick glance at this dashboard, I could easily say that this business review is going to lead to some tough discussions. Why are the action items overdue (indicated by the red flags on the scorecard)?  Why are only two measures green, while the rest (11) are under-performing?  Where are the rest of the action items for the other under-performing measures?  You can bet there will be some new action items and at least a few new improvement initiatives as a result of this discussion.

If the top-level dashboard doesn’t have all of the answers (and it never does), the reviewer could reveal many more details for each measure by clicking on the measure names. The entire framework of objectives, measures, and initiatives is linked in ASE, so you can always keep drilling to learn where causes of top-level problems originate, as well as why they are occurring (using information from owner Variance Reports and initiative status reports). If there’s a dead-end and no answers are available, an action item can be created for the appropriate owner to do more root cause analysis.

Back to the dashboard, the reviewer can also use its Reference Center, which displays all of the action items, comments, external links, and attached documents  linked to this dashboard. This provides a great way to circle back to previous review discussions, ensuring that Action Items were completed. Action Items can be linked from the dashboard and directly to the under-performing object. Consequently, the measure owner (who is accountable) and the dashboard owner (perhaps the executive performing the business review) will have direct access to the Action Item to update or review the status.

This was a quick intro to dashboards, so feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions on how to use them successfully in your next business review. There are many features I didn’t touch upon!

Creating Custom Homepages Your Executives (& You) Will Love

If you’re like most organizations trying to improve overall performance, you probably want to be able to quickly and easily measure how well you are progressing toward meeting your strategic plans for the year.

But all of the business decision makers are so busy that they rarely have the time to navigate through their dashboards and reports to review all their objectives, update all their initiatives and measures on a regular basis, and follow up on action items. So it can be tough to quickly see an overall picture of progress, which is probably what your executive users really want to see.

If your organization is using ActiveStrategy Enterprise software, however, any of your system administrators can easily create customized views of performance that provide that “big picture” view that many of your users probably want.

There are several ways to do this. Here are a couple of simple ideas (to do either of these things, admins simply login to ASE and then use the “assume user” option to create views for any other user):

  • Link commonly used objects (Scorecards, Dashboards, Briefing Books, Initiatives, Program Groups, etc.) to the user’s My Favorites page. My Favorites is the default homepage for all users, so upon logging into the application, they will be presented with the objects they are most interested in viewing.
  • Set the user’s homepage to a Dashboard, Scorecard, Visual Map, Program Group, etc. If you have a top-level Scorecard that contains all the Objectives, Measures, and Initiatives that an executive is concerned with, set that as their homepage.

These methods work, but they can be time-consuming and–depending on how many executives and users you are supporting–this task could take more time than you have in a day. In talking with several clients, it seems like this is a typical situation (too many views to customize to make it practical).

What a lot of clients do instead to boost productivity, add transparency, and make things simpler for their executives and other users is leverage ASE’s Visual Maps feature to create custom, visual, navigable homepages that they share with some or all users.

To build your own Custom Homepage, create an appropriate image that contains your organization’s areas of focus, your geographical locations, your business units, or any other structure that would make sense as a way to structure and view your performance. You (or someone more graphically-inclined in your organization) can easily create something in PowerPoint, Visio, or any graphics program.

Upload the image into ASE and then simply link any ASE system objects you’d like to areas within the image. This creates clickable “hot spots” that can be used as a simple, intuitive entry point to your performance management or measurement system’s more important areas.

Here is a very simple example I built with stoplight indicators to help guide focus toward under-performing areas:

ActiveStrategy Visual Map - as a navigation tool

ActiveStrategy Visual Map set as a user's homepage

By building this kind of ‘image map,’ you can bring together all of the key strategic objects that your executives and other business decision makers need to see. Plus, unlike a static strategy map or PowerPoint slide, this dynamic Visual Map lets you click directly into any linked object on the map to immediately see more details. You can click directly into such things as the organization’s top-level scorecard, its top objectives, improvement initiatives, processes, and even Six-Sigma dashboards. Each of these items is represented in the image and its hot spot is a hyperlink to the detail page for the selected object. Users may also hover over any hot spot to show information about the linked object.

Once you’ve created this organizational Visual Map, you can simply set it as the homepage for all of your senior leaders. As soon as they log in (or launch the URL, if using single sign-on), they’ll see their Custom Homepage — and get that big picture view of performance that they really need!

Evaluating Performance Management Software to Drive Strategy Execution? What You Should Know (Part 1: Intro)

I first published this series of posts about two years ago, over on our other blog, The Glue.  I’ve gone back over those posts and made some updates to post them here since I thought our AS Insight readers might also find these helpful, especially for those of you currently evaluating the role software can play as part of a broader Strategy Execution or Performance Excellence effort.

One thing that I found striking while updating these articles: point vendors have moved towards including some of the functionality included here, but more surprisingly, even the big software stack vendors are (ever so slowly) starting to talk about these topics and (even more slowly) introducing features.

But overall, my advice remains the same: understand what it is you want to achieve and think very carefully about how a given technology will (or will not) support those goals.

That little “aha” came to me more than a decade ago. At that point, I had many years of building data warehouses and business analysis systems under my belt. But when I had the chance to actually participate in implementing a real closed-loop management system from within, I had a true moment of clarity:

Although business intelligence systems are great for showing people where problems are located, they don’t do anything to drive better business results.

Achieving better business results requires that an organization has a performance-driven culture. So if you plan to use software in your performance management and improvement journeys, you had better make sure it drives the key culture changes needed to get breakthrough results.

Broadly, business intelligence (BI) software has focused on data, analysis, and reporting. Back when my colleagues and I founded ActiveStrategy, we coined the term Enterprise Strategy Execution to differentiate it from BI as a holistic approach to driving business results. Strategy Execution management systems focus on accountability, action, performance improvement, and communication. While BI systems have been built to support a data infrastructure, Strategy Execution provides a management methodology (based upon best practices approaches including Baldrige criteria, the Balanced Scorecard, and structured performance improvement) and helps build a performance-driven culture.

Most, if not all, businesses need BI and analytics tools to assist with thorough financial analysis, organizational troubleshooting and optimization, and planning support functions. Through the years, there has been some confusion as BI suite vendors have added features, such as dashboards and scorecards, and have begun using Balanced Scorecard terminology in relation to their reporting.

Terms like “performance management,” “scorecarding,” “corporate performance management,” “operations management,” and others are thrown into the pot and seasoned with a healthy dose of marketing hyperbole. The result is a big mess of confusion.

Throughout this series of 3 posts, I’ll try to sort through the terminology and features that you’ll want to be sure you consider if what you actually want to do is manage the performance of your company and achieve the strategic goals you’ve laid out. So I’ll be using the term Strategy Execution to mean a holistic, closed-loop combination of software and methodology. Think of it as “performance management”  with an alignment, action, and accountability layer on top!  So by Strategy Execution Software, I mean performance management software that supports those additional layers.

Hopefully this series of posts will help clear up some confusion. It will highlight the ways that Strategy Execution software can help an organization shift toward this kind of focus on performance (which is often a significant change). I’ll share which aspects of a technology solution do (or do not drive) performance improvement and long-term results and why I believe these things are critical.

Watch for much more to come and please share your thoughts on this topic.