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I’m posting excerpts from a few of my most popular posts from my other blog called Manage By Walking Around.  This 2006 post tries to distinguish between dashboards and scorecards.  Interestingly, three years later there is still lots of confusion…

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So what is the difference between a scorecard and a dashboard?  The popular notion seems to be that there is no distinction; the words are used interchangeably in most performance management articles and marketing literature. And yet, if their traditional uses are any guides, a scorecard for a college semester feels like it’s addressing a different problem than a dashboard for an automobile so perhaps there should be a distinction. 

After doing a little research, I found that some people agree.  In an article titled Dashboards or Scorecards — What’s the difference?”, Ventana Research uses the words “manage”, “align”, “strategic” to describe a scorecard and “measure”, “understand”, “tactical” for a dashboard.  Wayne Eckerson makes a similar distinction when he writes, “In short, a dashboard is a performance monitoring system, whereas a scorecard is a performance management system.”  

This distinction between simply measuring or monitoring using metrics to actively managing towards defined goals is a concept that I think is often lost in performance management discussions.  Too often we publish carefully chosen metrics on a dashboard (or scorecard) and then assume performance will increase.  It usually doesn’t.  Managing performance requires integrating goals, programs, and metrics.  But that’s a soapbox for another day. 

Coming back to this main theme, Data Management Group echoes the need for more than measures with this definition, “Scorecards inherently measure against goals, dashboards need not; said another way, dashboards present raw news, while scorecards are editorials of sorts.”  They go on to point out that this is consistent with their real-world counterparts.  Automobile dashboards use lots of measures that give you data about how your car is operating but provide little insight into progress towards your goal of reaching your destination on time.  It’s measuring/monitoring, but not managing.  In a similar vein, your semester scorecard presents a quick picture of which course you need to concentrate on if you would like to graduate but lacks any detail as to why you are struggling in that particular course. Of course, once you’ve identified the troublesome course on the scorecard, you’d like to drill down into a course-specific dashboard that contained detailed measures like individual test scores and attendance rate. 

Which leads me to conclude that a dashboard should contain more operational details behind the strategic goals on a scorecard.  Tom Gonzalez seems to share this belief and provides what I find the most complete and useful definitions for scorecards and dashboards. In fact, he goes one forward and includes a definition for reports as well. I like them so much, I’ll repeat them here:

“The goal of a scorecard is to keep the business focused on a common strategic plan by monitoring real world execution and mapping the results of that execution back to a specific strategy.”

“A dashboard falls one level down in the business decision making process from a scorecard; as it is less focused on a strategic objective and more tied to specific operational goals.”

“Reports are best used when the user needs to look at raw data in an easy to read format.”

As much as I’d like to see us use common language, having a standard definition of scorecard and dashboards is only one small part of the process.  I worry even more about what we do than what we say.  Effective performance management goes well beyond deploying scorecards, dashboards, and reports.  It requires communication and collaboration between everyone involved in achieving in a goal.  It can’t be done in the privacy of our offices.  We have to get up and walk around.

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  1. Dan Everett
    Jonathan,
    I also believe there is a difference between the two. Furthermore, I believe the distinction is critical for the success of a software implementation.

    For example, a company decides it wants a scorecard to better manage performance. So it hires a consulting firm to build it for them. Lets say the consulting firm usings a management methodology like Six Sigma or the Balanced Scorecard. In order for the implementation to be successful some amount of cultural and/or behavioral changes are required. For whatever reason the company does not make the changes and the implementation is considered unsuccessful or partially successful at best.

    In this example a clear definition of what is a scorecard vs a dashboard, as well as what is required for a successful implemantation of each could have changed the outcome. Perhaps what the company really wanted was just visualization of metrics without any management methodology or process.

    While I know you have been a vocal advocate of distinguishing between scorecards and dashboards both at SAP and Pilot before that, I think the vendor community at large has done a disservice to the market by not establishing agreed upon definitions.

    Regards,
    Dan

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  2. Bob McGlynn
    One big difference that is often missed is WHO is using dashboards and scorecards.

    Everyone in the company should have some sort of view of scorecards because they provide the objectives the company is hoping to achieve and a simple symbol to show current status.

    Dashboards have a lot of operational numbers in them. Executives need this kind of information but may not want to (or legally be allowed to), share these numbers with all employees.

    Since there are fewer execs than there are staff, scorecards are very much more important than dashboards.

    Regards,
    Bob

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