Using Dashboards to Run the Business and Focus Improvements

David Haigh of Johnson & Johnson presented on how they’re using dashboards in their process improvement efforts; this is much further into my comfort zone, since dashboards are an integral part of any BPM implementation. He’s part of the consumer products division rather than pharmaceutical or medical: lots of name brands that we all see and use every day.

Their process excellence program covers a range of methods and tools, but today’s talk was focused on dashboards as a visualization of a management system for your business: to set strategy, track progress, and make corrections. Like many companies, J&J has a lot of data but not very much that has been transformed into actionable information. He makes an automotive analogy: a car engine typically has 43 inputs and 35 outputs, but we drive using a dashboard that has that information rolled up into a few key indicators: speed, RPM, temperature and so on.

They see dashboards as being used for governing the company, but also for informing the company, which means that the dashboards are visible to all employees so that they understand how the company is doing, and how their job fits into the overall goals and performance. Dashboards can – and should – leverage existing reporting, especially automated reporting, in order to reduce the incremental work required to create them. They have to be specific, relating jobs to results, and relevant in terms of individual compensation metrics. They have dashboards with different of levels of details, for different audiences: real-time detailed cockpits, medium-level dashboards, and reports for when a repeatable question can’t be answered from a dashboard within three clicks (great idea for deciding when to use a dashboard versus a report, btw). They used a fairly standard, slightly waterfall-y method for developing their dashboards, although did their first rollout in about 3 months with the idea that the dashboards would be customizable to suit changing requirements. One challenge is their wide variety of data sources and the need for data manipulation and transformation before reporting and feeding into dashboards.

They had most of their reports in Excel already, and added SAP’s Xcelsius to generate dashboards from those Excel reports. That provided them with a lot of flexibility in visualization without having to rewrite their entire ETL and reporting structure (I know, export to Excel isn’t the best ETL, but if it’s already there, use it).

One of the big benefits is the cross-departmental transparency: sales and logistics can see what’s happening in each others areas, and understand how their operations interrelate. This highlights their non-traditional approach to dashboard visibility: instead of just having management view the dashboards, as happens in most companies, they expose relevant parts of the dashboard to all employees in order to bring everyone into the conversation. They actually have it on monitors in their cafeteria, as well as on the intranet. I love this approach, because I’m a big believer in the benefits of transparency within organizations: better-informed people make better decisions, and are happier in their work environment. They’re able to weave the dashboards into their process improvements and how they engage with employees in running the business: being able to show why certain decisions were made, or the impact of decisions on performance.

Their next steps are to review and improve the metrics that they collect and display, and to start involving IT to automate more of the data collection by pushing information directly to Cognos rather than Excel. There were a ton of questions from the audience on this; some are using dashboards, but many are not, and are interested in how this can help them. I’m interested in how they plan to push the dashboard results beyond just human consumption and into triggering other automated processes through event processing, but I’ll have to catch David offline for that conversation.

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