Desktop computer on fire

7 common KPI problems and how to fix them

Choosing and implementing your KPIs is only the start. Once you go live, KPI problems will spring up that you were not expecting. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Late delivery of KPI reports
  2. Embarrassing KPI performance
  3. Discredited KPI report content
  4. Excessive KPI report production effort
  5. Major unexpected operational crises stopping reporting
  6. Poor KPI report or dashboard readability
  7. Long, complex or jargon-littered reports

Let's have a quick look the issues and how you deal with them.

Ivy covered report

1. Late delivery of KPI reports

This is one of the most common issues I see with reports. Not only does it leave key decision-makers without information they need to make informed decisions, it also undermines confidence in the management information production process.

When delivery is late, it's time to ask...

  • Are the reasons for the late delivery investigated and reported back to the internal customer as soon as possible?
  • Can you take corrective action to avoid the delay in future?
  • If the issues are repeated, are they highlighting an underlying process weakness which you need to address?
  • Is there an appropriate forum to examine report production performance, and is it reviewed in that forum?

If there seems to be a systemic issue, think about using the cycle time reduction techniques (such as SMED).

Very embarrassed manager

2. Embarrassing KPI performance

Are you asking a fox to guard the henhouse? Are you asking someone to incriminate themselves with data? It takes a strong individual to sign up to that. It may be worth reallocating responsibility for that particular part of the report to someone with less invested in the output.

Omission of guilt

The most common form of `embarrassment censorship' I've seen is omission. A chart or table simply disappears. In a rapidly changing reporting environment it is often the hardest form of censorship to spot. This is why it is important to create, and formally sign off, a definitive report structure. You also need to put in governance requiring formal sign-off before changes can be made.

Group of managers laughing hysterically

3. Discredited KPI report content

This is definitely a situation in which prevention is better than cure. If you end up in the unfortunate situation where a major issue with the quality of data or reporting has been discovered, here are the things you need to do to ensure that you recover the situation:

  • Do not `blagg' or `bluff' your way through explaining what the issue may or may not be.
  • Investigate thoroughly the reasons behind the problem.
  • Be as honest as possible when reporting back.
  • Ensure that any explanation is clear, contains the remedial actions required and has a credible plan.

The only thing worse than content that has been discredited once is content that has been discredited twice. If you are fortunate enough to get the chance to put it right, make sure you do it properly the second time. Allow enough time, resource and support to fix it properly. Make sure you test any solution very thoroughly before it gets to your internal customer.

Business people rolling a huge boulder up hill

4. Excessive KPI report production effort

If it's massively tedious or effort-intensive to create a measure or report, it will often die as soon as that particular burning need has passed. To avoid this, you need to pre-empt any complaint and start to think about semi (or complete) automation wherever possible.

  • Reduce production effort
  • Have you mapped the process?
  • Are there redundant steps in the process?
  • Are there other steps that can be combined?
  • Is there excessive manual activity, such as copy and paste in Excel, that can be automated or designed out?
  • Has the process been examined to see whether any redundant or excessive information is being collected and analysed? If so, can it be eliminated?
  • Are there any other options to simplify the process?

Does the resource have the appropriate seniority for the task involved? For instance, tying up middle managers with tasks that are essentially admin work.

Desktop computer on fire

5. Major unexpected operational crises stopping reporting

Major issues such as product recalls, mergers and natural disasters can wreak havoc with any `discretionary' activities within an organisation. In one of my clients, senior management stopped having steering meetings for one of the major brands (that represented 25% of their accounts) during a difficult and torrid merger. Unsurprisingly, that particular product went into an almost instantaneous coma the moment those meetings stopped. Four years later, they had still not resumed those steering meetings!

If reporting KPIs is put `on ice' because of exceptional events, you need to make sure:

  • The reason for it being put `on ice' is clearly articulated.
  • There is intent to revive that measure/report at a future date.
  • That future date is agreed.
  • There is a forum for raising any breach of this commitment with stakeholders at the appropriate level.
Old man with thick glasses reading a book by candle light

6. Poor KPI report or dashboard readability

It is important to present your report or dashboard clearly. Consider whether you would be happy to read it. Some things to consider are:

  • No font size below 8 point. Commentary and body text at a minimum of 10 point. And take note - I have had some senior clients who are partially-sighted, so flex to the situation.
  • No red to green differentiation (this causes difficulties for those with red-green colour blindness, e.g. traffic light indicators).
  • No strongly-coloured text on strongly-coloured background.
  • No overlapping data sets on charts.
  • No double Y axis charts.
  • No mixed chart types (e.g. bar with line).

For a full method for improving readability refer back to `Review existing reports and dashboards - The Brilliant Dashboards Checklist'

Complex mathematical image

7. Long, complex or jargon-littered KPI reports

There is no single golden rule here, but these questions should help decide the appropriateness of the data you're providing:

  • How long would it take to read your complete document properly?
  • How much of the data is there `just in case'?
  • What justification do you have for the just-in-case data?
  • Are jargon terms and acronyms defined anywhere in the document?
  • Could an intelligent but non-specialist reader make sense of the report without additional input?

If there is a lot of just-in-case data, this can be a symptom of a report that services a poorly focused meeting. It may be worth reviewing whether there is a clear Terms of Reference for the meeting. See `The basics for a meeting's Terms of Reference' - for how to do this.

Use your eyes to find out what people really think about their new reports

One of the most interesting exercises is to watch how your target audience use their new reports in meetings (or whatever the target event is for their use). You should gain access to the relevant meeting, position yourself so you can easily observe what is happening but don't let people know what you are observing. If you think the reports and dashboards being presented are just not relevant to the actual objectives, consider using a meetings 'terms of reference document'.

Questions to ask yourself are:

  • Find out what people really think of the new reports
  • How often do they look at the documents?
  • Do they appear to have read them in advance?
  • Which bits do they look at?
  • Which bits do they refer to?
  • Which bits are annotated or were written on previously?
  • Are there any sections that seem to provoke most debate?
  • Are there any parts that are ignored by everyone?
  • Are there any comments about the quality of the data or presentation that you should take on board?
  • Is there an overwhelming amount of information? (If so, consider Index KPIs)

One last thought...

All of these common KPI implementation problems are solvable with the right approach and some careful attention. However, it is crucial to address these issues promptly, as failure to do so can lead to bigger and harder-to-solve problems. The longer these issues persist, the higher the risk of KPIs losing credibility with users, which can ultimately undermine the entire performance management system. By taking swift action and implementing the appropriate solutions, you can maintain the effectiveness and credibility of your KPIs, ensuring that your organization continues to benefit from valuable insights and data-driven decision-making.