The “dashboard” is often used as a metaphor by business writers and consultants to explain to managers that they need performance measurement and key performance indicators for their business, just like they do for their cars. Otherwise they’ll drive their business off the road, they (falsely) argue.
The problem is, the dashboards on cars don’t help you keep your car on the road. Yesterday a couple came on my street driving a 1931 Model A Ford. I snapped this picture of the dashboard.
It has three instruments: an Amp meter to tell the charge on the battery; a gas gauge; and a speedometer. That’s it. That’s all. They are at indicators to help you manage the risks of running out of gas, battery charge, or going too fast. You could get by without them.
The dashboard on the earlier Model T Fords had no instruments. It was a board. The Amp meter was the first the be added to the board when starter cranks were replaced with starter motors powered by electric batteries.
What you need to keep your car on the road is a good pair of eyes. Measurement cannot tell you everything you need to know. There is a clear and vital role for non-measurable information. If you just relied on the indicators on a dashboard to drive a car you would go off the road.
The same lesson applies to running business.Non-measurable information is vital.
Well. How about a plane? Can you pilot a plane without a dashboard?
Yes you can fly a plane without a dashboard using visual flight rules.
The point of the post is that there is a vital role for non-measurable and sensory information. It is not the instruments that keep the car on the road as many management writers suggest.
Aircraft that can be flown using instrument flight rules follow beacons that provide navigational signals, which don’t yet exist for cars.
I agree that one needs both a dashboard and a pair of eyes to drive a vehicle or fly a plane. Without eyes one cannot even see a dashboard:) Measures are of limited use and have numerous limitations.
However in the case of airliner besides knowing his position in space and trajectory (which is not easy without altimeter, vertical speed indicator and compass, especially when flying at sea, when there are no visual way points) one has to control his engine (tachometer, oil temperature and oil pressure, coolant temperature, hydraulic pressure etc.). Also at night or under intricate meteorological conditions a flight on instruments is possible. However one can hardly fly at night without a dashboard, as he cannot clearly see ground.
It is possible to manage a small organization using a pair of eyes without assistance of any device. However in the case of large organizations the naked eye is insufficient. Managers of large organizations need devices to understand the business and the organizations. But surely they still should use their eyes.
And the point is that they should strike the right balance between the measurable information they need and the non-measurable information they need.
Thanks for the post. Love the old dashboards.
Lots of businesses refer to dashboards but when you look at it, this is mostly static data concerning activity that’s more use for inventories in dusty drawers than driving anything forward. But explaining the concept of the dashboard then the analogy of the car helps. What most don’t understand is lead and lag indicators and the connects, the inputs and outputs and the effects of adjusting one and seeing the possible positive or negative effect / relationship. Good dashboards have learned intelligence and can take many moons to tune in but agree that measurement alone, let alone measuring the things that don’t matter are of no benefit.
However, many businesses will be just using the rear view mirror looking at where they have been and not where they are going!