Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results Part 30

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Tools simply provide different ways of looking at the information you've gathered. Depending on your root question and what you are trying to learn from your metric, you can use many different forms of a.n.a.lysis. The tools I cover in this appendix are the few that I find useful and simple. They are simple for me to produce/use and simple for my audience to understand. Always remember your audience when displaying your metrics. Even if you use more complex a.n.a.lysis to get to your answers, you may need to find ways to display them in more simplistic terms.

Microsoft Excel.

I've found Excel to be much more than spreadsheet software. I guess it was originally created to a.s.sist with accounting or bookkeeping. Ages ago, I used to explain that spreadsheet programs were good for working on numbers. If you wanted to perform math on your data, spreadsheets were the way to go. Today, Microsoft Excel has grown to be much more than a glorified calculator. I use it for much of my metrics work. Like most current software applications, Excel has more capabilities than most users realize or will ever use. Besides the breadth of functionality, Excel also provides a lot of flexible power, as in macros (mini programs) and add-ins like PowerPivot. I collect, a.n.a.lyze, and produce graphs for most of my work in Excel. With Excel add-ins, I can also perform more complex a.n.a.lysis inside the spreadsheets. With Excel 2010, I can handle as many records as I need. I use Excel as the foundation for my work.

Excel has a statistical add-in that comes with the full version, but you have to "turn it on." It doesn't come with this functionality preset. Turning it on will give you some basic statistical tools like histograms and regression tests.

SigmaXL

SigmaXL is a tool that can be accessed through Excel. It creates a more intuitive set of menu items in its own tab than the statistical add-in that comes with Excel. I was especially happy to find that it had a BoxPlot tool (graph), which I was unable to find in any other add-in. I am truly impressed with the SigmaXL capabilities.

Minitab

While working on my Green Belt in Six Sigma, I fell in love with SigmaXL. Before the honeymoon was over, my instructors told me about Minitab. They described it as better, smarter, easier to use, and more comprehensive than SigmaXL. The biggest problem with statistics is they're just too hard to deal with, especially for the benefits gained. SigmaXL makes it worth the effort; and if Minitab is better (I haven't used it yet), I want a copy.

Visualization Tools

Visualization tools are primarily (if not solely) designed to provide access to your data-in the form of dashboards, scorecards, or other visualizations. These can be used for metrics per my definition.

Theoris Vision Software

Theoris Vision Software provides a dashboard and reporting solution that includes charts, graphs, scorecards, maps, and ad-hoc reports. Everything is driven from the dashboards. I like that I can create my own visual and reporting content pretty easily. From what I've seen, the real power of this application lies in the unique ability it has to map to various data sources and files, instead of the traditional approach of pulling everything together into a spreadsheet or database.

Vision is not a metric design tool per se, but it is a powerful tool for visualizing your measures. It also allows others (stakeholders) to access your metrics on their own. I especially like the ability to set up hierarchies in the data, which in turn allows viewers to drill down into their data further. This capability is further expanded to allow the creation of ad-hoc reports at different levels of information. This can be a bad thing-depending on the level of maturity of your audience-but for the most part, it's pretty slick. Overall, this is really an impressive tool for displaying metrics and starting those critical conversations. Currently, Vision is mostly focused on the health industry, but the compet.i.tion had better watch out as Vision branches into other industries. A really nice tool which I've added to my wish list.

iDashboards

iDashboards is exactly what you'd imagine by its name: an excellent tool for creating and displaying dashboards-or compilations of Key Process Indicators (what I'd call measures). With iDashboards, you could use your measures to create a view of your metric for a given question.

I like both Vision and iDashboards for this purpose. The question for me then becomes cost and ease of use. If you are thinking of obtaining a tool for displaying your data in this manner, I'd encourage you to spend time demo-ing both products. This one is also on my wish list-and I'll be happy with either as a surprise for Christmas.

Tableau

Tableau is not an add-in, but it works well with Excel. You can easily import data into Tableau from Excel or other common tools. Tableau's power is in the ability to quickly and easily try different graphical representations (visualizations) of your data. I know some people who love it and use it before they do any thorough a.n.a.lysis. I haven't found it works for me, but I do see the potential value (I have a copy, but haven't been able to put it to a lot of use).

Survey Tools

The following three survey tools each offer different benefits. In order, the first provides some useful a.n.a.lysis of what's important to your customers as well as how well you provide those services. The second is a third-party service (not really a tool in the true sense) and makes the survey work easy. The last is a favorite of mine as it allows you to create what you need, customizing your surveys to fit your requirements (and the cost is attractive).

TechQual+

TechQual+ (www.techqual.org)is a good example of a survey tool; it was created by my friend Timothy Chester, the CIO at the University of Georgia. Most of the questions are preset in TechQual+, causing some limitations; but these are also its strengths. Since the questions are standardized, you can compare your results to others who chose to use this tool. There are other third-party survey organizations (HDI, for example), but a large benefit of TechQual+ is that it is free.

HDI.

The HDI Customer Satisfaction Index is a survey service. HDI does everything for you: they survey your customers, tabulate your results, and provide you with reports in multiple formats. They also provide comparisons to others (for example, by industry or all other customers). HDI is only one example; there are other third-party survey services that offer this service. I suggest you price shop and look for ones that already have a large customer base in your industry. Customer satisfaction surveying is an interesting business niche.

SurveyMonkey

I confess-I like SurveyMonkey; partly because it's free (if you use it sparingly; though, if you want to use it on a larger scale, the costs are very reasonable), but mostly because of its simplicity. With SurveyMonkey, you build the survey; then you provide a link to the survey to your customers. SurveyMonkey also offers simple a.n.a.lysis tools, but I usually download the results into Excel and do my own a.n.a.lysis.

IT Solutions/Business Intelligence Tools

Many "IT solution" companies now include dashboards and scorecards in their service packages. This is a clear indicator of the need for metrics and the power of software to help deliver them. IT solutions packages may include the metrics tools as an add-in to the suite of services-pulling the data byproducts from key offerings (process control, management, architectural design, etc.).

The major difference I've found between these tools and the stand-alone tools is in the scope. If you don't need (or can't afford) a large-scale solution set, you can get a lot out of the tools specifically designed for metrics. If you're looking at purchasing (or already own) a large-scale IT solution, you may want to look into its capabilities to also provide metrics a.s.sistance.

ASE 10.

An example of a data-centric toolset for organizational improvement using scorecards, dashboards, and measurements is ASE 10, from ActiveStrategy (activestrategy.com). It's a bit complex, but offers pricing based on company size. ASE 10 is heavily based on predefined methodologies, but seems to have enough flexibility to work with the metrics that you design. I haven't used this tool, but it has been recommended by a colleague whose opinion I trust.

The issue for most larger-scale tools is that they may offer too much. Ignoring the cost, these tools offer more capability than most people need-especially if you are just starting on your metrics journey.

Other Tools.

Other tools may not fit the definition of a metric tool at all, but be very helpful to your metric efforts. The two examples I offer are at different ends of a scope/size spectrum. QPR is a larger scale process improvement tool which has useful applications to a metrics effort. Powerpivot is a tool which works with (and "in") Excel.

QPR.

QPR (QPR.com) is an example of a business-driven solution. Its scope is so large that I can't tell you about it all. QPR is used mostly by companies outside of the United States; but I believe it will make a big splash on our sh.o.r.es soon. Rather than a simple, lower cost, limited-use tool, QPR's solution is a mid-range, enterprise-level solution.

QPR's web-based solutions can be selected based upon your need. If you need to build an understanding of your processes, one of its tools, "Process a.n.a.lyzer," a.s.sists in developing business process diagrams using a logging file input structure. If you need to share your database of business processes, "ProcessDesigner" provides that solution. Most metric-centered reporting requirements can be satisfied with the "Metrics" solution. If you need to integrate business process reporting and metrics, a combination of these solutions provide you with an integrated management reporting system.

The cost will reflect its expansive power. I include it as an example of a high-end tool, and because it does so much more (process a.n.a.lysis, process management, etc.) than metrics, the higher costs are no surprise. I especially like that such a nice enterprise-level solution includes specific tools for metrics.

PowerPivot.

Unlike most of the tools, PowerPivot isn't an a.n.a.lytical tool at all. It allows you to use Excel to be more like its brother, Microsoft Access-a database tool. Although most metrics are number-based efforts, there are many times when it would be useful to have a relational view of the data. A relational database would be the perfect tool if it had the ability to do mathematical and statistical a.n.a.lysis on the data. PowerPivot promises to give you the best of both worlds-a number-based program you can treat as a relational database. I've been working with its first release and I am looking forward to the release of the improved 2.0 version.

Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results Part 30

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