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Assessing Your Organization's Readiness for Performance Dashboards

by Wayne Eckerson
Performance Dashboards are a popular way of monitoring organizational performance. However, they can’t take root in a hostile environment. The organization must be ready to accept and nurture a performance management system for it to succeed.

Performance Dashboards are a popular way of monitoring organizational performance. However, they can’t take root in a hostile environment. The organization must be ready to accept and nurture a performance management system for it to succeed.

The following 10 criteria are good ways to evaluate an organization’s readiness to deploy and sustain a performance management system for the long haul:

  1. A clearly defined strategy
  2. Strong, committed sponsorship
  3. A clear and urgent need
  4. The support of mid-level managers
  5. The appropriate scale and scope
  6. A strong team and available resources
  7. A culture of measurement
  8. Alignment between business and IT
  9. Trustworthy and available data
  10. A solid technical infrastructure

Let’s consider each of these criteria.

1. A Clearly Defined Strategy
A performance dashboard is a window into an organization’s strategy and planning processes, especially dashboards that track business strategy. If the strategy and planning processes are unclear, unaligned, or uncoordinated, the Performance Dashboard will be ineffective and short-lasting.

The organization must have a strategy that defines its mission, values, vision, goals and objectives, and metrics for measuring progress toward reaching those objectives. It also needs a planning process that devises new initiatives, refines existing ones, and allocates resources to implement the strategy.

2. Strong, Committed Sponsorship
A committed and involved business sponsor evangelizes the system, secures and sustains funding, navigates political issues, effects cultural change, and helps prioritize projects.

The sponsor must also assign a trusted lieutenant to guide the project on a daily basis. This “driver” or “champion” needs to devote at least 50 percent of his or her time to the project. Like the sponsor, he or she must be well respected and connected in the organization with a direct line to the executive suite.

3. A Clear and Urgent Need
The best performance dashboards address a critical pain in the business that stems from a lack of information and alignment with strategy. The more pain, the more likely a Performance Dashboard will flourish. Unless the business is starving for information and a way to monitor and manage business performance, the project won’t survive the strong tides and currents that wash many projects out to sea.

4. The Support of Mid-Level Managers
Successful Performance Dashboard solutions need the support of mid-level managers to succeed. This group determines the success or failure of a Performance Dashboard more than any other. These managers translate strategic goals and objectives into initiatives, metrics, and budgets to govern their areas. Their words and actions signal whether their staff should take executive edicts seriously or not. If they are unwilling partners—or worse, active saboteurs—the project can’t succeed.

5. The Appropriate Scale and Scope
Most people assume a Performance Dashboard is always implemented on an enterprise scale starting with the executive suite, but this is not always true. Sometimes it is better to implement a Performance Dashboard in a business unit, region, or department that is highly receptive to it. If the initial project succeeds, it will spread quickly throughout the organization.

6. A Strong Team and Available Resources
To succeed, you need to have business and technical people with the right skills and who are available to work on the project. On the business side, the sponsor and driver must allocate enough time and attention to nurture the project through its entire lifecycle. Successful projects have business people who are skilled at communicating business requirements; selling, justifying, funding, growing, and prioritizing projects; specifying success metrics; managing risk; and assuming responsibility for the project’s outcome.

On the technical side, successful projects have technical teams with strong technical and project management skills. Successful technical teams score especially well on the “soft issues,” such as the ability to communicate technical issues clearly, respond to business requirements, and develop desired functionality.

7. A Culture of Measurement
Does the business already have a culture of managing through performance measures? If not, even the strongest desire may not be enough to overcome organizational inertia. At a bare minimum, does it compare performance to plan or forecasts? Does it hold individuals and groups accountable for performance? Does it conduct individual performance reviews using objective data? The organization should have a history of using information and data to make decisions. If the organization relies primarily on intuition, it will struggle to succeed with Performance Dashboards.

8. Strong Business-IT Alignment
The degree of alignment between the business and the technical team also determines the readiness of an organization to adopt a performance management system. That’s because Performance Dashboards are adaptive systems that continually change as the business changes. Performance dashboards require ongoing interaction between business users and the technical team to define new requirements, metrics, and targets and to refine old ones. If the relationship between business and technical groups is tense and both groups eye one another with distrust and sarcasm, then the chances that a Performance Dashboard will succeed are minimal.

9. Trustworthy and available data
Does the organization have the right data to populate metrics in the Performance Dashboard? While it’s unlikely that data exists for all measures, a new initiative should supply data for a majority of the metrics under consideration. It’s also critical that someone evaluate the condition of the data. Nothing can damage the credibility of a project faster than launching a Performance Dashboard with inaccurate and untrustworthy data.

10. A Solid Technical Infrastructure
Data doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Often, companies must overhaul operational systems and processes to generate data for new metrics and establish a BI infrastructure to deliver that information to users in a digestible format that is easy to monitor and analyze.

Not all companies are ready to implement a performance management system using Performance Dashboards. Organizations need strong leadership, a receptive culture, and a robust technical environment.


This portion of the chapter “Assessing Your Organization’s Readiness for Performance Dashboards” is excerpted from Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (0-471-72417-3, October 2005) with permission from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons. You may not make any other use, or authorize others to make any other use, of this excerpt, in any print or nonprint format, including electronic or multimedia.

1 These criteria are based, in part, upon the work of Paul Niven, the author of "Balanced Scorecard Step by Step: Maximizing Performance and Maintaining Results", New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Recent articles by Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson - Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group, a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.