Using a dashboard to help manage business

I learned how to fly helicopters many years ago; I was taught a “circular” method of watching the instruments while flying and that always stuck with me. There weren’t too many gauges to watch, but enough that you had to frequently focus on a handful while in flight. Without a method for doing so, you would be overwhelmed and in a dangerous position, obviously. Every car on the market also comes with a dashboard, a series of instruments we use to monitor what’s happening as we drive the car and that is the essence of a dashboard. It helps us while we are driving.

In business, dashboards have gained enormous popularity in recent years, and the reason they are popular is not surprising. Most of us in business are used to dealing with a shortage of one key asset in our day-to-day operations, and that is available time. Most remodelers I know are very good at multitasking, but by its very nature the remodeling business will pull you in a lot of directions.

To be a good remodeler you must generate leads, design and sell projects, coordinate the project, schedule the project and the requisite trades, do the project, handle people and payments, record those transactions for the books, etc., all of which come with management. So when do we have time to monitor the business and make improvements?

This is where dashboards can help. A dashboard is a simple way to keep track of the most important things in your business and maintain consistent focus on them. Dashboards also focus on meaningful and relevant data that can help your business improve. They are not designed to be a master list of all business elements, but just those you feel you need to watch and act on. A typical dashboard may have metrics like cost per lead or average sale and close rate. On the production side, metrics might be backlog or work in progress.

If you think a dashboard would be helpful for you, it’s important to start by establishing a handful of metrics in your business that you are interested in seeing more frequently. It’s not a bad idea to start by using those areas of your business that are a cause for concern. Try listing these areas as main headings and then add one or two metrics below which relate. Keep your dashboard simple, though, and don’t let too many elements creep into it; otherwise, it will overwhelm you. Remember the cardinal rule of dashboards is to have them track actionable data. That is, only data that you can act on and change.

The other consideration for a dashboard is that it be for your business. Be greedy here. What you need to work on is unique to your business and to your desires for it. Also make sure that once you start the process you consistently look at your dashboard. If you dread looking at it, then there are too many things on it. Dashboards can be numbers but they can also be action items, such as finding a new subcontractor or supplier or updating specific items on your website.

Here are some of the benefits that others have experienced by using dashboards. Visibility to the important things in your business on a regular basis. Knowing and tracking your progress on those benchmarks. This allows you to see that you are gaining positive traction on things. Time savings. By focusing in on the key metrics your business will improve with a modicum of time invested. Identifying potential problems before they become problems. This one alone is worth the price of admission. Pilots count on this one as well. Visibility of employee productivity. We all know employees love recognition. This will help point out who deserves it.

If this topic is of interest to you, then I commend you for where you are in your business. Too many of our comrades in this industry fly without any instruments, and we all know what can happen if we were to do that. As Evel Knievel said, “Anybody can jump a motorcycle. The trouble begins when you try to land it.”


Sam Imhof is Principal at S. William Imhof and Associates. He has been in the remodeling and building material industries since 1984 and specializes in helping companies grow.