3 Tips to the Elusive Supply Chain Dashboard

(By Mike Raftery)

An effective supply chain dashboard is a very tempting idea.  In the course of every supply chain project, a scope item comes up that either is, or is very close to, a supply chain dashboard.  For some organizations, it becomes a “white whale” in which the perfect dashboard is continuously hunted, but never quite captured.  (NOTE: this may or may not be true; I’ve never read Moby Dick, but just go with me here). In concept, a single supply chain dashboard is a very valuable tool to identify and react to issues before they hit the bottom line.  However, it is very difficult to put together a dashboard that people rely on for their day to day with one single report that works for everyone.  In fact, that is the wrong approach; a single dashboard rarely works for everyone.  Instead, target your dashboards to a specific role to be more effective.

It takes tremendous discipline and a very focused vision to avoid trying to be everything to everyone.  But if you follow a few simple guiding principles: what you measure and how you measure it, you can end up with a supply chain dashboard that is not just useful, but also helps the bottom line.

Motivation – Money.  Let’s be serious, if the metrics you want to control do not impact an employee’s compensation, it is rarely going to get significant attention.  So before measuring everything under the sun, it’s important to align as an organization around a strategy and a rewards structure that backs up that strategy.  If everyone is looking at the same information to drive their performance, then it is easy to identify those few key metrics that make a difference.

Targeted – Measure what you can change. To limit the noise in a supply chain dashboard, it helps to measure only what the users can control. In practice this means to limit the scope of a dashboard to a specific audience.  It also means limiting the metrics to the sphere of influence of the intended audience.  Stock prices might be important to a C level, but just takes up space for the person managing inventory.  When constructing an effective dashboard, the intent is to help someone by aggregating the information they need to do their job effectively.  This usually means more than one dashboard for a group as not everyone has the same roles and responsibilities.

Timeliness – Is the information still relevant?  Sometimes old information can be worse than no information.  Working against an outdated assumption, or old data sets result in wasted time and effort.  That’s not to say that every metric has to be real time.  But the information has to be fresh enough to assist in the decision making process it is meant to facilitate.  An inventory dashboard that shows last week’s inventory might be helpful for a financial snapshot, but not to the warehouse manager who needs to load a truck.  When considering the data source for your dashboard, make sure the Information is delivered in a relevant window for the task performed.

With all the systems and promises of a company on a single database like SAP, it is surprising that effective dashboards are not more prevalent.  In practice, it is very common to see people construct them in excel.  Most of the time it is because a supply chain dashboard tries to be all things to all people.  Usually this results in not being useful for anyone in particular and contains way too much information.  When constructing your supply chain dashboard, make sure to make it timely and targeted and that it supports your overall business strategy.  If done properly, it can accelerate decision-making and improve coordination at all levels of the supply chain.

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