Quick, what’s the difference between a scorecard and a dashboard? Scorecard and report card? Dashboard and portal? If scorecards are supposed to be balanced, are dashboards inherently unbalanced? And with all of the hubbub surrounding digital dashboards, what ever happened to the analog report?
Admittedly, these questions are a bit tongue and cheek but the point is that words are a powerful communication tool. This is no I say “po-tay-to”; you say “po-tah-to” exercise. If we can’t even agree on the definition of a few basic terms, how can we expect to get people on the same page? As an industry, we are in dire need of some standard language to make sure that we’re all talking about the same things.
So what is the difference between a scorecard and a dashboard? The popular notion seems to be that there is no distinction; the words are used interchangeably in most performance management articles and marketing literature. And yet, if their traditional uses are any guides, a scorecard for a college semester feels like it’s addressing a different problem than a dashboard for an automobile so perhaps there should be a distinction.
After doing a little research, I found that some people agree. In an article titled “Dashboards or Scorecards — What’s the difference?”, Ventana Research uses the words “manage”, “align”, “strategic” to describe a scorecard and “measure”, “understand”, “tactical” for a dashboard. Wayne Eckerson makes a similar distinction when he writes, “In short, a dashboard is a performance monitoring system, whereas a scorecard is a performance management system.”
This distinction between simply measuring or monitoring using metrics to actively managing towards defined goals is a concept that I think is often lost in performance management discussions. Too often we publish carefully chosen metrics on a dashboard (or scorecard) and then assume performance will increase. It usually doesn’t. Managing performance requires integrating goals, programs, and metrics. But that’s a soapbox for another day.
Coming back to this main theme, Data Management Group echoes the need for more than measures with this definition, “Scorecards inherently measure against goals, dashboards need not; said another way, dashboards present raw news, while scorecards are editorials of sorts.” They go on to point out that this is consistent with their real-world counterparts. Automobile dashboards use lots of measures that give you data about how your car is operating but provide little insight into progress towards your goal of reaching your destination on time. It’s measuring/monitoring, but not managing. In a similar vein, your semester scorecard presents a quick picture of which course you need to concentrate on if you would like to graduate but lacks any detail as to why you are struggling in that particular course. Of course, once you’ve identified the troublesome course on the scorecard, you’d like to drill down into a course-specific dashboard that contained detailed measures like individual test scores and attendance rate.
Which leads me to conclude that a dashboard should contain more operational details behind the strategic goals on a scorecard. Tom Gonzalez seems to share this belief and provides what I find the most complete and useful definitions for scorecards and dashboards. In fact, he goes one forward and includes a definition for reports as well. I like them so much, I’ll repeat them here:
“The goal of a scorecard is to keep the business focused on a common strategic plan by monitoring real world execution and mapping the results of that execution back to a specific strategy.”
“A dashboard falls one level down in the business decision making process from a scorecard; as it is less focused on a strategic objective and more tied to specific operational goals.”
“Reports are best used when the user needs to look at raw data in an easy to read format.”
As much as I’d like to see us use common language, having a standard definition of scorecard and dashboards is only one small part of the process. I worry even more about what we do than what we say. Effective performance management goes well beyond deploying scorecards, dashboards, and reports. It requires communication and collaboration between everyone involved in achieving in a goal. It can’t be done in the privacy of our offices. We have to get up and walk around.