KPI Spreadsheets vs. KPI Dashboards: How You Know You’ve Outgrown Excel

By Tiffany Chepul

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dateThu, Sep 30, 2021 @ 12:00 PM

Since the release of Patrick Thean's book Rhythm, it has been so Outgrown Excel Spreadsheets vs Dashboardsexciting to speak with people who are implementing Rhythm in all types and sizes of organizations.  It truly works for any business - regardless of revenue size or number of employees!

Many smaller organizations using the Rhythm methodology are using Excel spreadsheets to track their progress.  And, for many that works.  But for those who are now experiencing rapid growth, there comes a time when old systems no longer work.  You hit a ceiling of complexity, and I'm reminded of Marshall Goldsmith's What Got You Here Won't Get You There.

So, how do you know when it's time to leave Excel behind for a more sophisticated dashboard?  

The Top 6 patterns I've seen are below: 

Your list of KPIs is out of control.  It probably started with 10 or so metrics, but now Excel's continuous scroll feature is your best friend.  Sometimes we see teams that are measuring 50 or more KPIs at once.  Most are usually Yellow or Red, and the team is overwhelmed.  Their lack of laser focus on a core set of 10-12 KPIs is making it difficult to move the needle on anything.  A visible dashboard can help the team get focused and put an end to "KPI creep."

You were blindsided by an outcome in the previous quarter.  Because most things are presented as lists in Excel, it's easy to miss something.  Either it's buried in a list of 100 other things, or it's missing all together.  As the complexity of the business increases, the chance for "missing" a key metric increases.  Probably time for a dashboard.

Your Weekly Meetings are long, unorganized and all about status.  During your Quarterly Planning Session, the team is focused on identifying their top Company and Individual Priorities for the next 13 weeks.  What most teams usually don't think about is that what they are actually doing is building the blueprint for the Weekly Meetings for the next 13 weeks as well.  The stuff we all commit to in planning is the stuff we are all going to be held accountable to every week.  And, we're going to need to make adjustments along the way.  Most teams using Excel struggle to find an efficient way to track a plan over 13 weeks with that level of accountability.  Rhythm users input all their Priorities in the Plan screens and data is converted into a Weekly Meeting agenda on the Do screens.  They can drive accountability all the way down to Action Items with due dates.  

Your team energy is in silos.  Some Excel files I've seen from new clients have a tab for each department to list their priorities.  While this might work for a smaller firm, it actually promotes silos as an organization grows and complexity increases.  Teams start planning and executing in their own little bubble, instead of a top-down approach. Cascading into groups in Rhythm helps teams see how they impact each other and how they all connect to one "north star" - the Company Plan.

- People struggle to connect execution to strategy.  Why is my priority important again?  If someone in the organization can't see how their priority connects to the bigger picture, they are less motivated on execution. It's tough to see this connection in a spreadsheet.  Usually this issue shows up as lots of Yellow and Reds on Priorities - the owner doesn't understand the impact of that Yellow and isn't motivated to adjust.  Rhythm's Strategy Connector is sort of a "You Are Here" button - click to see that this priority is important because it's driving a Company Priority, which is supporting an Annual Initiative that is helping us achieve a Winning Move.

You have a beautiful plan, but no one knows it.  Walk out into your hallway, out on your production floor or into your sales department.  Can anyone tell you the Company Theme and Priorities for the quarter?  Can anyone tell you how your top Critical Numbers are doing?  If your plan is in Excel with only a few people looking at it all the time, you're missing a huge opportunity to get the most out of your people.  A firm of 6 people can all be in Excel constantly.  A firm hiring 20+ people a quarter can't possibly manage the details of the business using one Excel spreadsheet for everybody everyday.  One visible dashboard for all to see becomes imperative.

So does any of this sound familiar?  If so, it might be time to take the leap into dashboards.  Make it real, make it visible, and execute with Rhythm! 


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Tiffany Chepul


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images