January 8, 2013

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How Do you Ensure Successful Adoption of a Dashboard?

A dashboard enables people to keep track of the big picture and not get lost in the operational challenges. It enhances productivity if designed and adopted effectively by providing information that helps decision-making and tracks progress against long-term objectives. Needless to say, it is a critical success factor for large initiatives, programs and engagements.

I was engaged with a Fortune 500 company in helping establish a dashboard for one of their business segments. I was also involved in another engagement for the same purpose. My experience has been that ensuring adoption of the dashboard is as challenging as creation of the dashboard, if not more. The Fortune 500 firm had a basic version of a dashboard with elements they wanted to cover, and had launched it twice the previous year, albeit unsuccessfully. It was surprising, as you would think such a large organization would have such processes established, but you soon realize that most large organizations tend to function in silos. How did we ensure adoption of the dashboard?

  • Involve Producers and Consumers of Dashboard:  The success of the dashboard is foremost dependent on the providers of the data. We provided the producers, in this case the Project Managers (PMs), a walkthrough of the dashboard and sought each one’s input for changes/improvements/challenges. When each of these inputs, however small, if relevant, are implemented, they create a sense of ownership. The dashboard definitely has to ease some of the record keeping they are currently doing, even if it adds to their overall work. We also need to ensure that the KPIs measured in the dashboard are the same as the ones on which the teams are being evaluated, or else the dashboard will not be aligned to their current needs and may lose relevance. We sought feedback from the CIO, who was the consumer in this case, to ensure that the dashboard provided all the views and information for his decision-making. His buy-in brought in the authority that was quite important for dashboard adoption. 

  • Establish a Process for Data Collection and Review: We established a data collection process specifying data owners, validation and checks required, frequency of updating data and an escalation path for data collection. This was evangelized with all the relevant stakeholders.  The review calendar for the year was published to convey that the dashboard was there to stay. It is important that the “need” and “value add” of the dashboard is explained and emphasized to the data producers. They should be able to appreciate that the dashboard is providing valuable information to the decision makers which are being translated into actionable items.

  • Assign Dedicated Personnel to Facilitate Process: Initially, dedicated personnel are required to keep reminding PMs of the deadlines for updating the dashboard, to do the validation checks to ensure relevant data is being filled in the right format, to rectify errors/make changes/improvements if any, to consolidate all information for final review and presentation, and to escalate in case the dashboard is not updated on time.

  • Buy-in from Sponsors and Authoritative Figures: Reporting does not fascinate most people. Even people who love their work would rather spend time doing their work than spending hours making presentations, and updating Excel workbooks on their work progress. This is where figures with authority and internal sponsors help in evangelizing and perhaps even mandating updating the dashboard until it becomes a habit.

  • Change Management: Resistance to change is natural, and people will come up with reasons why the dashboard cannot be used, how it adds extra work, the endless features that need to be added, how they have many other templates and tools to fill, and hence it’s better if data is extracted from them. A feasibility study definitely has to be done on current templates and tools where data is being populated and can be extracted to fulfill the data needs of the dashboard. Once the study is done, reasons on why the integration can or cannot be done should be clearly communicated, and efforts to ease their work highlighted. Adding features to the dashboard can be done as new versions are rolled out, but that should not delay use or adoption of the dashboard, and this should be clearly communicated.

  • Roll-Out Dashboard Quickly: Once the basic version is established, it needs to be rolled out quickly as Version 1 for it to gain momentum. Delaying roll-out may often lead to the death of the dashboard, as it may quickly lose relevance or people may have built up resistance and a list of reasons on why it can’t be used. Clear visibility on roll-out of the next versions and additional features can help reduce the stakeholder resistance.

  • Transition to a Dashboard Tool: When the dashboard is into its sixth or eighth month of adoption and the process is fairly established, it quickly needs to be transitioned to a tool to reduce manual intervention in terms of validation and also to ease updating. This provides an incentive for all stakeholders to continue using the dashboard and to hold their interest by providing different ways to play around with the data.

Ensuring dashboard adoption is a time-consuming process, and perhaps takes three times longer than dashboard creation. The key is to be patient, persistent and open to feedback to make the dashboard relevant and useful to all stakeholders. It is also important to smooth and facilitate the process for ease of providing and accessing data to ensure successful adoption.Read more about HCL's business transformation services here.