It may surprise you that a successful executive dashboard initiative is not just about the data. It probably varies some from project to project, but on average success is 50% about the data and KPIs and 50% on the business process you wrap around your executive dashboard. In other words, even if you have managed to identify the best KPIs, source the data from a perfectly cleansed and curated data warehouse, and have the most brilliant visualizations, if don’t have the other side of the house in place, you will likely end up with an exec dashboard that has negligible impact. Not to say those items from the BI and analytics side of the house aren’t important – they are critical, in fact. But, most executive dashboard projects fail to consider the business process side of the equation. So, where would one want to start on a good executive dashboard?

Start with a strong executive sponsor

Preferably the CEO or president or whomever the majority of executives report into. If you don’t have this first item in place, it probably isn’t even worth starting the project. It is critical that this person sponsor and endorse the executive dashboard project. At the core, a good executive dashboard project is about aligning a company’s day to day operations with the corporate strategy. If properly implemented the CEO can utilize the executive dashboard to drive the strategy deep into the day to day operations of the company.

Get clarity on the corporate strategy

If the company already has a good vision and corporate strategy in place, you can check this box and move on. But, many companies have only a vague sense of where they are headed. If the executive team isn’t crystal clear on the strategy and vision, one can use the planned creation of an executive dashboard to catalyze the crystallization of the corporate vision and strategy. Once this is in place, one can move on to the creation of the KPIs.

Determine the most important KPIs

KPIs are a dime a dozen in most organizations. And if you are like most companies, there are literally hundreds of things that could be measured and added to an executive dashboard. Your challenge here is to narrow down the KPIs to find the ones that are most impactful on your corporate strategy. You must find the drivers that are both drivers of accomplishing the corporate strategy and are also actionable. Another danger here is the creation of too many KPIs. Try to keep this within the range of 5-8. Too many more and you lose focus. That isn’t to say there can’t be many more sub-KPIs that drive those top-level KPIs, but don’t put too many as top-level or you will be spread too thin.

Identify the data sources of those KPIs

Do a GAAP analysis between what you want to measure and what you can actually measure and adjust accordingly. If you can’t yet track it and you think it is important, consider investing to be able to start capturing the data

Decide on your dashboarding tool

If you already have a vis tool in place, check this box and move on but make sure you speak to the executives and find out what form factor they want to be able to utilize – is it their mobile devices, laptop, or tablet that they will be utilizing? If you don’t have an existing tool, try to rapidly decide on the technology. My experience is that technology matters little in comparison to the rest of the factors.

Populate the KPIs

Start pulling the data into whatever vis tool you decide and start getting feedback. Verify the data is correct, put in audits into your underlying data sources to make sure that your source data and what is displayed in the KPIs are consistent. This presupposes you already have a data warehouse in place. If you don’t have that in place, that is a project unto itself. This is also the time you are starting to get feedback from the various members of the executive team as to how they want to see the data, how they want to be able to drill into the data, etc.

Have the CEO make the executive dashboard part of their weekly exec meetings

For one quarter, just have the exec in charge pull up the exec dashboard and make that a key part of their weekly exec meeting. Have them explain that they are in a beta phase for one quarter while they refine the dashboard, vet the data, and make sure that they feel like they have chosen the right metrics. Because the next phase is that they will assign executive ownership to each metric…

Assign Ownership and set targets

Assign an executive owner to each of the KPIs. Have them set targets and attach incentives to accomplishing those targets. The owning executive is expected to drive and align its organization to accomplish that KPI. Many times we see drill down dashboards that in turn have key lever metrics that directors own, and so on throughout the organization.

Review the metrics periodically to look for unintended consequences, which occur with all metrics that people attempt to accomplish. As the exec dashboard becomes more central to the business, each yearly planning session will involve the owning executive planning initiatives to improve their respective metrics. Don’t forget that if your company strategy changes, or if you determine a new metric is a better more actionable one than an existing one, they can and should be updated as the business and environment evolve.

Again, the ultimate success of an executive dashboard project is the degree to which it drives and aligns the day to day activities of your team with your corporate strategy. A strong executive dashboard and the surrounding business processes are one of the best, if not the best method of accomplishing this alignment.