Traffic Lights on the Dashboard

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 19, 2011

How does your team know if it is making a difference?  Moving the needle?  Going in the right direction?

You may not like my answer – because it involves the dreaded “M” word.  “Metrics” show whether you are moving in the right direction.

And you don’t need to make it into a big science project, either.  There are two kinds of metrics you should be aware of:

1)  Results measures.  Some call these “lag” measures as they show what has happened.  It’s a view out of your rear-view mirror.  It tells you what has happened, and you really can’t influence that measure.  It’s typically easy to measure such as a number or amount of sales, expenses, items completed etc.

2) Process measures.  These are also known as “lead” measures that are more activity-based.  Certain activities are precursors to a successful result. So if actually do these activities, you’ll have a higher probability of success.  And if you’re not….well, then, you can do something about it.

Ideally, you should measure both.  Most people just focus on results and not on the process measures.  So it becomes a big surprise when the team doesn’t hit the milestones on time and on budget.

And what do you do when you have multiple projects and initiatives?  Oh yeah, that would include almost all of us.  You set up a dashboard.

I was reading the July 25th issue of Fortune magazine (okay, so I’m a little behind on my reading!) about Vivek Kundra, the United States’ first CIO.  He set up an IT dashboard online where you can see every major IT project and how they are doing (budget and schedule).  Fortune also says that he put the project managers’ pictures next to the IT projects they were responsible for.  Great idea, but I didn’t see pictures – but maybe that’s a few levels down….

When the President looked at the IT dashboard, they took a picture and put it online.  Guess what happened? Kundra said, “Moments later, I started getting many phone calls from [agency] CIOs who said, ‘For the first time, my cabinet secretary is asking me why this project is red or green or yellow.”

LOVE the traffic light metric:  Green means all is good, yellow means there are some issues that are being worked out and red means the project is in danger of going over cost or schedule.  Looking for some examples?  Just google “traffic lights dashboard” and go to images.  You’ll see lots of creative ideas – just DON’T make it into a complex monster that needs to be fed data.  Elegance and simplicity is best.

And it helps if your President is looking at the dashboard too!

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