Accepting Managers need Performance Management to sustain business, who should define and make it work?

Last week I had the chance to sit in on a review of an Executive Information System used in a leading Power Utility. The implementation was done on a mature infrastructure covering end-to-end from ERP, finance and planning, considered as the whole business. The parts that got my attention were the impressive management cockpit and analysis reports.

The leaning is very clear, in the fast pace of performance decision making, that dashboard management is not just the job of the technical person who build it or got it started and who may be long gone. Executives Managers know keeping things simple in performance management systems is vital for good decision support. Those who do this well succeed as it provides them rich depth in sub-sonic control to help them take their business to the next level.

In this case several hundred analysis reports had been created and categorized based on the organization structure. In the initial review when executives were asked which top 5 reports were used most, the consensus answer was:

“Frankly speaking, none of them are really used, as they contained too much detail and were too technical to understand”.

It turned out that the reports were used for analysis mainly by operational teams to troubleshoot problems.

Next, we looked at the Management Cockpit. I had high hopes on this. As the name indicated that management will certainly use it. After the walkthrough, and asking the same question, the same answer came.

“It doesn’t answer management questions and the user Interface is hard to read and interpret”

I reflected on a statement I had heard some time ago while working with a software vendor:

“Our Cockpit comes with very rich analytical report building, ad-hoc analysis and report distribution functionality, We believe that every user should be treated as a power user and be allowed to do in-depth ad-hoc analysis and report building without the need to do programming. “

It seemed they had all that but had overlooked the need for simplicity, an imperative in the concept of management cockpit’s, By making what seemed to be a lot of “noise” it limited value with the focus on only the following as shown in the picture ;

  • Black wall  focusing on the objectives
  • Blue wall focusing on the resource
  • Red wall focusing on the obstacles
  • White wall focusing on the actions

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The real question was did the Executive users need all those bells and whistles to manage their company. The concussion generally was they just wanted to get the performance facts in their hands fast and accurately.  Most confirmed they know what is going on from other intuitive human management feedback systems, like management by walking around

A useful question was then asked

“Given they have the facts what do the Executive and Management need then.

The unanimous demand was for early alerts to be able to investigate and take corrective action on issues that may lead to failures and concluded their dashboard system must provide this as a means to serve as decision support tool.

We know all too well it is easy to dismiss Executive information Systems but this was so positive to hear these sorts of comments. The reality is Executive information Systems regularly fail or become as white elephants when they are not top down driven or don’t form part of a performance management culture. It may look impressive to provide a system that gives the appearance of being in control. But the big folly in this case was just being show piece did not make it automatically supported by the Executive and Key users.

We know most well run companies equate to the metaphor of the constant hum of power generation plant as what the management subconscious listens to and perpetually cross checks against. Any change in tone is vital to listen for to signal a potential problem. Without a system it is very hard to hear that as the human noise naturally dampens warning sounds until local issues are fortified. This can hamper or delay  vital corrective or competitive improvement decisions.

Hence the conclusion was the dashboard dials themselves, like any engine or process, need regular review by the business leadership teams. This must ensure they  provide the best intelligent feedback with realistic forecasting options to confirm the facts Managers already expect. And like any process they must be subject to monitoring and continuous improvement.  For this their design and fine-tuning must be measured too so  managers can improve their hearing of upstream, downstream and below the calm surface noise, that signal risks that things may go off track.

Mudisir & Isha Kousar Wedding

Kashmir is a place to be for sure. We are still here relaxing after our daughter’s wedding when we had a large houseboat and several small ones accommodating the fly in guests. Our location is on Lake Nageen in Srinagar, which is about 1800 feet above sea level in the lower reaches of the Himalayan Alps. The wedding ceremony and the parties on board were a highlight.

I got to walk Kate down the gangway that served as an aisle from the large houseboat (still here from the British times in great demand by high end tourists). The actual ceremony was in the adjacent gardens. It was also a high point for the 575 locals from his side with many whom had not seen a western style white wedding before. We know the numbers because they just count the plates from the wedding feast. In the end the whole affair that ran over 3 days with local celebrations and events involving us and all the guests and all the related families.

In Srinagar each year there is a defined wedding season that lasts for nearly 2 months. During this week for example there have been about 20 other weddings going on with similar celebrations over several days. They are prestigious affairs and have a large invited community of witnesses. After seeing our wedding, someone remarked that the fashion for wedding may change. Kate, who is fashion designer by trade anyway, has already received some feelers from pending brides for next season for her to do a dress designs such as the one she did for herself.

It seemed clear the community expect newlyweds to take marriage quite seriously. Someone remarked that in a mixed culture weddings when the families think the marriage may fail, the arrangements are far less grandiose. Sometimes they may just be a registry office style affair so it can avoid community embarrassment later.

Fortunately our daughter, who has been coming here for more than 4 years, is well accepted and very well-liked so that was not the case. It became quickly clear to us when we got here that she has already made her mark in the local community and is regarded highly by her husband’s family. We were also afforded tremendous hospitality and have been treated like royalty with chauffeurs to pick us up and daily plans to keep us all entertained and relaxed.

The unconditional generosity and openness made any fears go away about the our daughter taking on a new culture. It become especially clear that the human fundamentals were sound.  When we talked with his family we found they too had the same fears for their son.

One of the hardest things for me has been my daughter’s decision to change both her given and family name which is now Isha Kousar.  In time I am sue I will learn to stop using the name we gave her at birth. Of course her family name changed by marriage anyway but she told me she had done that by deed poll before she was married so she could make it clear on all the papers that her husband (then-to-be) would not be denied a visa entry to Australia. Her husband’s family of one of substance anyway so that did not make sense that she needed to do that. I suspect it was more motivated by the need to show full acceptance of his world so she could marry her man.

He is a really great guy and someone I am sure I will enjoy as our new son in law.

Our love and best wishes are with them both as they embark on their new journey of life together.