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Getting visual performance management right: So, what’s the pitch?

Visual performance management isn’t just about making data visual. It’s also about storytelling—and helping people take action.
Simon Hinds

Based in Melbourne, Simon has more than 15 years of experience in leading and deploying transformational change programs worldwide, with a focus on supply chains.

Laleh Omalaki

Based in Sydney, Laleh Omalaki is an expert in digital product design, combining design thinking and agile methodologies to deliver industry-leading experiences.

In our first post on visual performance management, we explored the current context of VPM in businesses, with some thoughts on the factors that organizations are getting right or wrong in their rush to embrace VPM to enhance the accuracy and speed of decisions.

We discussed how VPM spend is not always yielding results, with little evidence of any uptick in performance management as a discipline—despite rising investment in software to support VPM. This tells us that there are underlying fundamentals that are missing in VPM design to make the investments effective.

In this post, we’ll dive a bit deeper into the role good VPM investment can play in creating clarity for your decision teams—and how to ensure your VPM solution is consistent with the postpandemic realities of how your teams operate and reach consensus.

A story without a message is like a person without a soul.

Stan Lee

First of all, good VPM tells an organization’s story in the simplest, clearest way. For all our cognitive sophistry, we humans are attracted to a clear and simple narrative.

The slickest blockbuster can feel like nothing more than hours of colorful noise if there is no clear story providing a payoff. In the same way, investing in data visualization that is not driven by clarity about the key things that people need to know (and need to know now) can become little more than digital wallpaper.

The P in VPM stands for performance, and so that performance story needs to be understandable at a glance. That said, VPM is not the full script, or even the synopsis. It’s the one-sentence pitch.

As we mentioned in our last post (and you’ll hear us say this often) good digital visual performance management should always adhere to the 1-3-10 principle:

  • 1 second to know if you are winning or losing
  • 3 seconds to know what you are winning or losing at; and
  • 10 seconds to know what action needs to be taken

So, do you need software for this? No and yes. As we explained last time, a good 1-3-10 visualization should be able to be drawn on a beer coaster with a pencil. If it’s more complex than that, then you may have work to do on the inputs. But at the same time, software can help with the development, upkeep (accuracy), and distribution of the VPM solution. (Besides, photographing your beer coaster and texting it to an entire organization is hardly a sound distribution channel.)

Whether using an off-the-shelf solution from one of the major software providers or a bespoke system, some considerations as to how to use digital tools to boost your 1-3-10 model include:

  • Giving visual punch to the win/loss. Color is a powerful tool here. As trite as it may seem, red versus green really does work.
  • Making the problem obvious. Techniques to boost rapid communication include visualized icons about the issue and supporting the information with geospatial mapping. Another option is a layering of the key data point, allowing for multiple parameters to be laid down at once (such as: location of problem, size of problem, direction of change) in simple ways that can be activated by click, swipe, or hover. Many of the visualizations of COVID-19 data were effective on this point.
  • Linking to other systems for tracking what is being done. Pulling this data through to a management dashboard makes it easy to monitor progress in resolving the problem.

Of course, any system is only as good as its operators, so here are some human factors to think about in establishing VPM for your business or team:

  • Accessibility. Take care on source management. Who will see this? Who has access? How easy is it to extract? How many sources are there?
  • Format. The cleaner, the better. How clean are your data? How much manipulation is required to match the data with the software? Where will the data be hosted?
  • Frequency. Cycle lengths and accountability both require thought. How often are the data refreshed? Who is responsible for refreshing the data? What is the data governance system to ensure timeliness and accuracy?

A final question: Does building a digital VPM system better support the reality of your decision making in the next normal?

As per our recent insights on hybrid work, centralized office teams, data, and decisions are unlikely to ever return in prepandemic form or strength. Workers are seeking hybrid work arrangements and employers, keen to retain talent in a high employment economy, are responding accordingly.

This new normal requires new skills, new thinking, new methods of decision making, and indeed, may need new visualization (or even new software) to support that.

And while this axiom applies to all aspects of working and performance management, a new approach to performance reporting and information sharing can be a powerful way to inform and unite dispersed teams in a hybrid setting. If you can’t bring the people to the mountain, take the mountain to the people.

In sum then, it may well be that there is simply no better time to engage and invest your organization in better VPM—because there is every likelihood that the way you are sharing performance data to inform better performance needs to change now in any case.

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In our next, post in this series, we’ll unpack the key mechanics of setting up a VPM model for your team or business, including the pros and cons of a bespoke VPM software development.

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