Corporate-Level Dashboard 101

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Corporate-level dashboards are the highest level dashboard that a startup should be looking at, so it is fundamentally important that these dashboards are clear, simple and illustrative. Whilst other blog posts will go into why this needs to be the case, and how to do this, this post is just a quick overview of what a good corporate-level dashboard should look like

This post is intended for quick implementation, and doesn't go into deep meaning or the reasons behind this layout. Consequently it's very prosaic and somewhat dictatorial, and I apologise in advance for this. If you want more background information, then please see my posts on Dashboards.

What a Corporate-Level Dashboard is Used For

The corporate level dashboard at a startup is geared towards giving a: -

  • Quick summary overview of what's going on
  • Diagnostic indication if or when something is going wrong
  • Indication of the problem area

If you are trying to achieve anything more than these use-cases with your dashboard, then you're likely trying to do too much with it. It is important to keep this dashboard as clean and clear as possible, so that it can be ready quickly and diagnosed. Anything extra or extraneous will simply slow that down.

Measure a bit too much - display a bit too little

When in doubt, I encourage startups to record too much information, but err on the side of displaying too little on their dashboard. There is a fine trade-off between showing sufficient information to make decisions, and showing too much information such that decision-makers are distracted, trends are unclear, or spurious correlations appear

In my experience, displaying too much information on a dashboard is far more harmful than showing too little. It is also far too easy to do this inadvertently. Clarity of direction, speed of decision-making, and group-thinking are all adversely impacted by extraneuous information.

Ideal Layout for a Corporate-Level Dashboard

I have found that the following structure works best for a Corporate Dashboard at Seed and Series-A companies: -

  • Three columns - one for each OKR / North Star Metrics
  • Four rows, containing the following items: -
    1. Name of OKR / metric
    2. Numerical Planned figure that period
    3. Numerical Actual figure achieved
    4. Graph showing historical trend
  • Plan v Actual numerical figures mean that you can hold employees accountable to specific targets
  • Historical Graphs allow you to diagnose changes and trends

This structure combines the best qualities of simplicity, with rapid diagnosis, with indications of problem areas. Numerical Plan and Actual figures allow the management team to discuss concrete targets and be held accountable to them. Historical trend graphs allow the data to be displayed in context, and illustrate the trend over time. The combination provides both specificity and clear directionality.

Diagnosing Problems

Ideally the Dashboard is clear and familiar enough that it is obvious when something is going wrong, or has not gone according to plan. At this point it is important to dive into research mode, and understand the issue better. The Corporate-Level Dashboard should not exist in isolation, but is ideally the first of a number of Dashboards that can be referenced.

A quick diagnostic overview looks like this: -

  1. Have you hit your Planned targets?
  2. If not, which OKRs or metrics did you miss on?
  3. What does the Historical trend point to? Has there been a gradual or sudden change? When did this change occur?
  4. What factors affect that metric? Brainstorm them
  5. Pull data on those factors and analyse what has happened and when
  6. Do changes in those factors explain why you missed the target? If not, repeat steps 4 and 5
  7. Determine a plan to improve, agreed on it, action it asap
  8. Review progress at the next meeting

For example, in the case of worsening user retention, it is important to be able to access data and dashboards on Users, issues, bugs and responsiveness of Customer Support. This should be used to dig deeper into the problem in order to understand the root-cause better. Conversely, this information should not be shown on the Corporate-Level Dashboard - it is useful for diagnosis in certain circumstances, but is unlikely to be used for ongoing management of the company at the highest level.

Review Cadence

The ideal cadence for reviewing a corporate level dashboard varies between weekly and monthly, depending upon the following factors: -

  • How long it takes to gather and collate the data
  • How quickly new action plans can be put into action
  • How long it takes for results to be seen from new actions

Too long a review cadence means that the startup isn't iterating around the OODA Loop fast enough, and so will be outmaneuvered or outflanked by competitors. Too short a cadence means that indications of results and progress from new initiatives or action plans will not be available, and so the discussion becomes a waste of time.

Generally a Seed-stage startup should be reviewing this dashboard weekly with the senior managers so that they can rapidly understand the business. Series-A or later stage startups may find that this cadence is too rapid, and should move to Monthly

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Posted by Phillip Gales

Phillip is a serial entrepreneur who specialises in Operations, Data and Metrics. He applies AI and Machine Intelligence to old, antiquated and/or forgotten industries that are ripe for disruption.

Phillip holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MEng in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, specialising in Machine Intelligence.

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