Q & A: Automated Performance Data Display Systems

Q: Step 6 – Building Performance Measurement Displays – of the Six-Step Design Process for an effective court performance measurement system (CPMS) requires the design, development, and implementation of performance measurement displays that provide relevant and meaningful information that can be quickly accessed and easily understood by the intended users (see the Made2Measure October 15, 2005 post). The step suggests that courts begin by reviewing the functionality of commercial computer software referred to as performance management or “business intelligence” (BI) solutions that are offered by an increasing number of companies. Courts can then decide to buy or to build their own computer-based performance display systems.

But what about courts, especially small courts, that do not have the money to buy, or the technology resources to build, sophisticated computer-based performance display systems? Are such systems a necessary requirement for success? management?

A: Not necessarily. The recommendation of Step 6 that courts begin their consideration of performance data displays with a study of commercially available computer software applications (or the early efforts of courts like the Maricopa County Trial Courts that are building their own display) simply recognizes that computers can be invaluable for collecting, assembling, and delivering critical performance data. There is no single best way to display and to communicate performance data. Performance software is simply an efficient way of doing it that avoids unreadable written reports and spreadsheets.

A common reason that courts fail to detect performance problems is that the methods used to report and communicate performance data are poorly designed – or not designed at all. Potential users of the performance information get bogged down in too much data or too many reports. A typical format for performance reports (usually limited to case data) is spreadsheets with many columns and rows of mind-numbing figures identified by words, phrases and acronyms that are not easily understood. A midsize court I recently consulted with prepares a “transmittal sheet” for its monthly statistical report to the state administrative office with a note that the presiding judge “makes no representation that these figures … are completely accurate.” It’s little wonder that important performance data get missed.

An effective presentation of a set of performance measures is one that users can readily access, that is easily read and understood, that is organized for easy navigation among core and subordinate measures, and one that provides a “line of sight” which conveys to everyone what the drivers of success are and one that provides them with the concrete knowledge of how they contribute to that success. Few courts today operate without spreadsheet programs like Excel to organize, analyze and present data for budget and case processing reports. Computer software that sets up a simple, easy-to-read and easy-to-update system to track performance is merely an extension of such spreadsheet programs. Step 6 of building an effective CPMS should not be read as a necessary requirement to buy or to develop sophisticated performance management computer software, but instead as a strong recommendation to look at increasingly available technology to reach farther, faster, wider and deeper than paper reports can.

Thomas L. Friedman writes in his insightful bestselling book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005):

Rule #2: And the small shall act big … One way small companies flourish inthe flat world is by learning to act really big. And the key to beingsmall and acting big is being able to quickly take advantage of all the newtools for collaboration to reach farther, faster, wider and cheaper.

Substitute “small courts” for “small companies” and Friedman’s rule still holds.
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