Scorecards vs. Dashboards

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.

21 Responses to Scorecards vs. Dashboards

  1. Robert E August 18, 2006 at 8:55 pm #

    I really agree with this column. Maybe the confusion business people have over scorecards and dashboards has more to do with what they directly relate to when they hear those words. Dashboards are in cars and tell us about how fast (speed) and how much (gas). Scorecards are from the golf course and those tell us how far (yardage) and how good ( par for the hole and handicaps). What neither of those tell is is HOW- either how to get to where you’re going or how to golf like Tiger Woods. We don’t associate any strategy to car dashboards or golf scorecards. They neither make you a better driver nor improve your putting.
    That is why it is so easy to settle for a corporate dashboard or organizational scorecard only gives you the how fast, how much, how far and how good. The switch in thinking is how to use this strategically. Sort of like how newer cars have a GPS system on the dashboard and how some golf courses provide caddy books or player’s guides with strategies on how to play a hole.
    That is why I agree so strongly that it’s what we DO, not what we say, that is important. Knowing the score doesn’t make you a player. And merely going faster may not neccesarily get you to your destination either, since the top factor in traffic accidents is speed. For a scorecard or dashboard to drive success, it’s how you use it and what you do with, or because of, them.

  2. Jonathan August 21, 2006 at 3:47 am #

    Thanks for the comments, Robert. You make a really good point. Even if dashboards and scorecards are different things, neither of them are particularly useful unless they are tied to goals/objectives. Whenever people ask me what metrics or KPIs they should have, I always bring up the story of Alice and the Cheshire Cat… it doesn’t matter which road you take, if you don’t have a destination in mind.

  3. Howes November 1, 2006 at 12:25 pm #

    I can only guess the link between an actual scorecard and the business scorecard is the accountability. If you have a pile of golf scorecards from different golfers (general managers) with the handicap as targets/benchmarks, you can see who has performed well and who is under par. As a CEO you would speak to an under achiever, who could explain with his dashboard history what went wrong, and explain why he didn’t react well to his monitored info. May be the golfer ignored pertinent monitored info, maybe he did not monitor correct measures, maybe his dashboad wasn’t working well, maybe he did not manage all this info well, maybe he gambled on following one indicator, while dismissing another indicator.

  4. Muthu Ranganathan May 23, 2007 at 3:15 am #

    Really cool real life examples to distinguish dashboards vs scorecards. Couple of years back when i had to present to an audience on the difference, i wish I had these examples. I just recollect the following differences from what I did:
    Dashboard Vs Scorecard
    – Bottoms up – Topdown
    – Can be any KPIs – Tracked based on a balance growth perspective
    – Need not measure vs goals

  5. Muthu Ranganathan May 23, 2007 at 3:16 am #

    Really cool real life examples to distinguish dashboards vs scorecards. Couple of years back when i had to present to an audience on the difference, i wish I had these examples. I just recollect the following differences from what I did:
    Dashboard Vs Scorecard
    – Bottoms up – Topdown
    – Can be any KPIs – Tracked based on a balance growth perspective
    – Need not measure vs goals – measured against goals
    – present time context – data over a period of time

  6. Padma Nunna September 19, 2007 at 10:48 pm #

    I actually used this example this morning at a national conference as I was looking for examples of difference between corporate scorecards, IT scorecards and IT dashboards. These examples really resonated well with the audience and we all agreed that establishing a common language is very important even if we have been using them interchangeably for a while.

    Thank you, Robert for the great examples (Coincidentally, I have had very similar discussions in the past with an industry perr about 3 years ago comparing a car dashboard with golf scorecard!)

  7. Aravinda June 19, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    Comments also really Very cool, answered lot of queries in my mind, thnks

  8. Michael Ensley May 4, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    To me the scorecard is a tool to help facilitate better discussions about strategy management, initiative management, and performance. It is about communicating to the organization what matters and what no longer matters.

    The dashboard is far more tactical. I also think most dashboards are used for micromanagement – process managers get hooked on watching the screen to make sure they notice when it changes. It also flies in the face of the title of your blog. Managers can learn far more about their organization by spending more time listening.

  9. Pradnya June 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm #


    This article really helped me understand the concept better, even though i have read a lot about 2 concepts, but then had eventually forgotten a bit.Your article is great.

  10. Priyavrat Thareja September 25, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    Scorecard is a planning game and Dashboard is a control feature?

    That is from Dr oseph Juran’s teachings I draw on.

    hat’s your score, read it from dashboard. How do you balance it? Ah! that needs a bit of strategic work planning.

    Priyavrat thareja

  11. Cayla Unterzuber February 8, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    I am absolutely amazed at how terrific the information is on this site. I have saved this page and I really plan on visiting the site in the next few days. Keep up the excellent work!

  12. William Newman February 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    I enjoy the plain spoken nature of this column. Organizations tend to really “over rotate” indicators, measures, and metrics to a point where some indicators simply are not aligned to operational strategy or worse become dynamic in composition. In that case one can’t have consistent measurement since it is something different that is being measured each dat.

    BI techies need to be very careful about this. Executive management does not need a chemistry lab, they need the guidance to speed up, slow down, or stop. It’s that simple.

    Great article!

  13. Santosh Kandregula February 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    I am beginner in BI. This article and the comments really helped me in understanding the difference. Thanx a ton to all of you. Pls let me know your blogs or other forums where you are active. I would like to follow you guys there.


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