Background:

A client accepted a CFO role at a different company. When tasked to create an executive dashboard, the CFO engaged us as their trusted advisor to make it a reality. This is the first project to collect data from all around the organization into one easily digestible place.

Challenge:

The CEO has a draft vision of the executive dashboard. With the CEO’s vision in mind, we are to figure out how to make it come together using the tools they already have. The existing tool options are very limited. Moreover, the executives are still hammering out all the important metrics as a team, so the contents of the dashboard will change.

At the start of the project, the client’s IT department consists of 0 FTEs. Plans are in place to add people very soon. Most support is provided by super users and vendors. However, there is a future path to creating a department as well as upgrading / changing / implementing systems and software. The dashboard needs to be built with this changing landscape in mind too.

Very little documentation exists around what data is where and what it might be called. Their current data environment lacks a central data repository (data warehouse, lake, etc.). Therefore, all data comes from different sources. The sources include: Bullhorn ATS, Great Plains, EmployDrive, Teams/SharePoint, Excel Spreadsheets, and emails. In addition, the current data sources are in flux as data cleanup and rationalization efforts continue in parallel.

Solution:

First, create Master Data Management (MDM) project plans and artifacts. We start with a Data Dictionary/Catalog/Semantics to get everyone on the same page. If not already in alignment across the organization, get it there. This artifact includes what each important piece of data is called and means across the business. Second, documenting the agreed source of the data elements and who to contact in case of questions. Third, how to reliably, repeatedly obtain the data.

For this phase, there is no budget to purchase new tools. Therefore, we will utilize the tools they already have. We collectively decided to create a repeatable monthly executive dashboard prototype knowing new systems and software will be implemented in the future. Current tool options include Microsoft 365 and Bullhorn Canvas reporting. Canvas can only use data residing within Bullhorn. Fortunately, the data set is small (even with history) so we ultimately decided to use Excel.

Implementation:

Same Page:

Deciding as a team what the most important data to be displayed on the dashboard can be challenging. Keeping meetings efficient, engaging, and value-add is critical and even more so with many company’s leadership teams being stretched in multiple directions. We successfully navigated the holiday season and getting leadership on the same page.

In parallel to deciding what will make it on the executive dashboard, the meetings encompassed creating the Data Dictionary/Catalog/Semantics artifact. Through multiple iterations with rapid prototyping, the final shared landscape starts to take picture. We are literally on the same page now!

Data:

With the same page exercises above, identified the following data sources for the ~90 dashboard data points:

  1. Bullhorn (cloud) – most operational data
  2. Employdrive (cloud) – employee data
  3. Great Plains (hosted/on-prem) – most financial data
  4. Spreadsheets (file) – financial forecasting data and other data points necessary to round out the dashboard
  5. Email (file) – links from the dashboard back to folders containing email with details not easily summarized on the dashboard

Each source (and each spreadsheet) is unique on how the data is extracted. Most data points require specific logic to pull exactly the right data the executives want to see. The data details were put into the Excel workbook while the dashboard tab showed the executives what they wanted to see. If the executives wanted to see more detail, they would click on the link or follow the formula back to the detail on the referenced tab.

In future phases, creating a central repository for this and other information will be critical. This will enable them to create a systematic process for sharing data across the enterprise. In turn, when implementing other advanced technologies (ML, AI, etc.), there will be a much higher ROI with all the data in a common platform.

Executive Dashboard Prototype:

The technology we build the prototype on has to be tool agnostic. This is because the company is in a transition period where they are deciding on the future technology components (software, systems, etc.). Therefore, within their current toolset, Excel is the best choice. Especially since we would like to avoid as much re-work as possible. Through a rapid prototyping process, we continuously refine the executive dashboard data points until we land on a suitable skeleton. Next, we add visual stimulation with charts, graphics, traffic lighting, and other things that make dashboarding so exciting.

Support:

After successfully delivering the executive dashboard prototype, we continue to deliver the dashboard monthly until an internal resource is identified to take it over. We continue to have discussions on how we can serve them in later phases systemizing the data collection and reporting process. We look forward to continuously serving them in any capacity they need as their systems evolve and enhance.

One More Thing:

The client appreciates the guidance we give outside of ‘building the dashboard’ during the three months span of the project, over the holidays, during a pandemic. In addition, they mentioned helping shine a light on the things they can’t see for us to make better decisions together as a key differentiator. We look forward to being their trusted advisor for a long time to come!

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