Taming KPI Chaos

Paul Conway Published: 

So how did this get out of hand? At what point was control and common-sense surrender to KPI chaos?

The KPI Dashboard was designed to create a simple, efficient snapshot of performance, the 'go to' place for insights and understanding, a place to measure our progress towards business immortality.

But now staring at that same KPI dashboard, it looks more like a NASA schematic for an exoplanet probe. A nauseating familiar feeling washes over as the realisation sets in. It's going to be another long, laborious coma inducing analysis meeting that's bound to trigger another bout of escape fantasies.

So, what went wrong?

It's always better to have too much than not enough, right? This is the normal reaction to the paradox of choice. With the mind-boggling amounts of data now available to businesses, its a constant battle to not only filter out and condense the most important data into real valuable nuggets, but to then choose and align a near endless selection of KPIs into a performance strategy.

Does too much data create KPI chaos?

Our instinctual position is trying to monitor everything, the theory being that if we do we won't miss anything, but by doing this we are more likely to miss everything in the noise.

Software is now far more capable of taking this data and producing faster, more reliable, meaningful insights than previously. Enabling even more people to compound the problem.

Reach for the bullwhip

So, it's time to discipline your KPIs. It's time to wrestle back control of your Dashboard and resign those pesky little KPIs to history, Chuck Norris style.

But before you start cracking that thing at every KPI in your sights, you'll need a way to identify the targets of your vengeance. Here's a useful little guide to 6 of the very worst KPI Dashboard perpetrators:

  • The Dinosaur. These KPIs have been around longer than most of the employees, they're relics from a time when the organisations strategy and direction were different. But time moves on and as these priorities changed these KPIs just sat there, suspended, not challenged, just visualizing something woefully out of date. Cautionary note: Don't be so keen to dismiss these artefacts so quickly, they may just need a little tweaking to bring back to the present.
  • The Einstein. If any one KPI is going to send your neurons into overdrive, it's the Einstein. The calculation to drive this KPI was crafted by rocket scientists in between creating lunar trajectory calculations. Trusting the data is to understand where it's coming from and how it's calculated. Before feeling the business end of your whip, test it.
  • The Tally Counter. As the name implies its just that, ‘a counter'. Nothing more nothing less, its not aligned to any goal, strategy or objective, its purpose is to simply count the number of beans in jars – no place for these on the dashboard.
  • The Vanity KPI. Usually, but not limited to the marketing department, these KPIs are hell bent on ego massaging volume such as the visitors to websites, the number of likes for a post or click through rate of a campaign.
  • The Emperor's new Clothes. Admittedly a personal favourite. The KPI sits comfortably even grandiosely on the dashboard, it also has an important sounding title. Yet, nobody really understands it. Its notable by the sheer absence of any comment or analysis. And that's normally because everyone subsequently avoids questioning it for the fear of looking, well just a little stupid. Note: someone might actually know what the KPI is for, approach with caution.

Keeping KPI Chaos from returning.

Once you've consigned these KPIs to the bin, rested and sporting a normal heart rate its time for some ground rules going forward. To keep your dashboard streamlined, efficient and working optimal any new KPIs must:

  1. Have a clear purpose, focused on a narrow or singular goal.
  2. Ensure the KPIs can be measured with simple and clear calculations.
  3. Set a clear definition of success for the KPI.
  4. Assign the responsibility for the KPI to someone.
  5. Make sure the KPI is achievable.
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