Driving your operational excellence to the top!

2016 is not very far away.It’s the perfect time to think about New Year's resolutions. What about driving your operational excellence to the top?

Operational excellence is a major element of organizational leadership.

It involves the application of a variety of principles, systems and tools toward the sustainable improvement of key performance metrics. But more than that, it is a continuous improvement journey, a philosophy, a culture, and data is its catalyst. Once the journey has been defined from mapping current and future stakes to creating the framework and execution plan, you need to identify which data can be quickly retrieved to track your efforts and help you generate performance.

This goal has two core principals: First, data and KPI’s need to be accessible everywhere and visible by everyone, this is what we call a Data Democratization! Second, measurement and data are here to track your efforts and alert you when strange events or wrong behaviors occur. We call this a Data Continuous Improvement.

When these two elements are reunited, we can then talk about operational excellence, offering to all your teams the real vision of your business. You can let them track what is good and what is wrong with only one purpose : to improve your business and efficiency.

Stay updated and learn more on Captain Dash, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our blog.

Written by: Bertrand Verret, Chief Revenue Officer at Captain Dash

Mobile dashboards and efficiency

For years businesses have worked with and focused on desktop dashboards but given the increased mobility and rise in the use of tablets versus PCs in recent years the mobile dashboard has come into the spotlight. While this is but of course a natural progression, the part where things get sticky is how mobile dashboards are created.

Dashboards imported over from the PC version

This is the cheapest way to create a mobile dashboard. Here the dashboard is literally imported over from the computer version as a picture or opens up in a web browser. The user has to scroll on the device to be able to view the entire dashboard!

This is also the worst way of creating a mobile dashboard if the goal is an efficient dashboard.

Squeezing a dashboard meant for a computer screen in to a phone or tablet screen results in what one can only call abstract art.

Dashboards in pieces or Dashboardlets

A dashboardlet can best be described as an independent screen created for a mobile device which when combined with others like it forms a full screen dashboard for a computer.

While this method is better than the previous one it still does not create what one can call a complete dashboard experience on either device. The reason being that while it is created for a mobile device it still has constraints due to the fact that it needs to be fitted on to a computer.

A mobile native Dashboard

The rarest of all three and by far the most efficient is the mobile native dashboard. This dashboard is designed to the specifications of a given mobile device – tablet or phone.

It is completely separate from a computer or web dashboard even if it utilizes the same data sources.

The real estate on a dashboard is considered rather precious but that of a mobile dashboard is even more so. By choosing dashboards especially created for such a space, organizations can maximize the ROI on a mobile dashboard.

In this age of instant gratification not only does a mobile native dashboard make navigating a dashboard on such a device intuitive for a user but, as the Captain Dash team has observed, makes it as quick and as fun as any other mobile app.

Written By: Meghna Verma

What comes first? Micro Services or Micro Segmentation?

It reads like the chicken and egg story only in the case of Micro Services and Micro Segmentation it is very easy to think that they come as a package deal and thus confuse the two. Micro Services

As we have often discussed on the Captain Dash blog, Micro Services refer to a set of services or mini applications making up the application architecture of an organization.

An organization can either break apart an existing Monolithic application to create Micro Services or it can create its architecture as a combination of several Micro Services from scratch.

Micro Segmentation

Micro Segmentation on the other hand deals with breaking up of a network itself. This could be done for several reasons, foremost of which is security.

The point to note though is that when a team uses the Micro Services approach to their architecture a natural bifurcation of the network occurs thus leading to Micro Segmentation. This is also the reason why there can be confusion between the two.

Another significant use for Micro Segmentation is that aside from taking the pressure off of one large network is that it isolates disruption when services need to be changed or upgraded. In case of a single large network one change can have domino effect on the whole network.

Micro Services and Micro Segmentation

In brief these are both methods of segmenting a Monolithic architecture in different domains and turning them into smaller, more scalable and secure components.

Just because a team uses one approach it doesn’t automatically mean that the other follows. Though it is best practice to employ both for optimization.

While one cannot say which one comes first, as a general rule it has been observed that if a team uses Micro Services then Micro Segmentation is quick to follow. On the other hand the employment of Micro Segmentation does not necessarily result in the use of Micro Services by a team.

If your organization has made the switch to Micro Services or to Micro Segmentation we would love to hear which came first for you.

To stay updated with our series on Micro Services architecture follow us on twitter or subscribe to our blog.

Written By: Meghna Verma

Love that KPI, but let it go!

There is a saying that if you love something let it go, if it comes back it was meant to be. Sometimes companies tend to latch on to their KPIs for too long. The question is how long is too long? There are three ways to figure out if it is time to let go of a KPI:

The KPI has achieved a target and is stagnant

KPIs are meant for measuring very specific metrics and should have specific goals that define the purpose of the KPI. The basic idea behind this is to put into place improvement measures that help the team to achieve those goals. But, the fact is that not everything can be improved upon forever.

For some KPIs when they reach their goals the organization needs to take a step back and ask whether they are a priority anymore or not. If these KPIs have a lower priority since they have achieved their goals as opposed to KPIs that are still in progress then it is time to let those KPIs go.

It is better to pour resources into things that actually need to be improved instead of trying to improve something that has already reached the desired level of improvement.

Change of strategy

As a company grows and changes there are bound to be changes in the strategy and future goals. If the organization has a set of strong, well performing KPIs then their KPIs will be well aligned with their goals and strategies. As changes come about some of these KPIs will no longer be in alignment with the new strategies.

If a KPI no longer aligns with the goals of an organization or a team then it needs to be let go to make space for one that does.

Usefulness

Choosing KPIs is a science but also an art. There are times when a chosen KPI does not measure up to the expectations a team may have had. In the case where a KPI is found to not serve its purpose or found to affect other areas negatively it needs to be let go.

Letting go of KPIs does not mean to just discard them. It means that they do not have a place on your dashboard for the moment.

When letting go of a KPI the best practice is to archive the KPI so that it can be retrieved as and when needed.

Written By: Meghna Verma

 

Micro Services – Dealing With The Turf Wars

This past year we have witnessed how many companies have successfully integrated Micro Services into their architecture. In fact, 2015 has been touted as the year for Micro Services. It is all very fine for certain visionaries in an organization to push for Micro Services adoption from a strategic point of view but it is often found to be difficult to get people on board. Now, if it is indeed that great of an idea then why is it so difficult to convince teams to adopt them?

The answer is very simple – Turf!

Mostly the data in organizations exists in silos and is utilized as such. The problem that Micro Services present to such a way of functioning is that they represent a different way of doing things where managers often have to loosen their hold on their data. Thus, turf wars come into play.

There are some measures that can be taken to make a smooth transition in such a case:

  • Start by creating Micro Services for new application features to begin with. As development progresses work on refining and making changes where they need to be made.
  • To begin with keep the teams working on Micro Services separate from the team working on the monolithic architecture.
  • Provide the time and support to various teams to explore how Micro Services work and incorporate them into their work process.
  • As the Micro Services structure progresses encourage the teams to intermingle, have exchanges and facilitate cross training of skill sets.
  • As the skill differences become smaller and the comfort level of various teams increases start the breakdown of silos – both in terms of teams and data utilization.
  • As the Micro Services architecture expands start sliding slowly from the monolith to micro services.
  • Create standardized templates for development to make the creation of Micro Services easier.
  • As the architecture and the culture it brings get accepted across the organization start pruning the older Micro Services and replacing them with finer, more current ones.

While, it may be difficult to get everyone in an organization on board with Micro Services it is well worth a try as it can not only create better, more scalable software it can also help build better team dynamics.

To stay updated with our series on Micro Services architecture follow us on twitter or subscribe to our blog.

Written By: Meghna Verma

KPIs – R is for relevant

It is commonplace for an organization to use the S.M.A.R.T. rule for their KPIs. This rule, in short, states that KPIs should be S.M.A.R.T. – Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound. While this framework definitely provides a good foundation it is rather easy to end up with KPIs that do not achieve the desired results. The reason often is the misinterpretation of the ‘R’. Most people make the R about the enterprise, i.e., KPIs should be relevant to company goals.

What about the individual who has to work with these KPIs? Simply put it is not possible for the KPIs to be adopted across the company if they are not relevant to the individual worker.

At Captain Dash when we counsel our clients on KPIs we focus on aligning individuals to the KPIs by keeping the following factors in mind:

Target Audience

The first thing is to understand who has direct impact on the KPIs of the company. How can a KPI be made relevant when the person who directly affects it remains unidentified?

People Study

The next step is to understand the environment in which the target audience functions. What are the factors that have an effect on their ability to deliver, what motivates them, what are the constraints they function under, what are their personal goals for their work, how do these goals align with the intended KPIs?

Gap Analysis

The last part about goal alignments is extremely important. A misalignment between personal goals and company goals can have a negative effect on KPI selection. Once the goals of all the stakeholders have been identified a gap analysis needs to be performed. This gap analysis serves as a blue print when choosing KPIs that are beneficial to both the stakeholders and the organization.

Control

The last step to selecting relevant KPIs is to make sure that they are actually actionable. KPIs that individuals have no control over serve to do nothing more than add frustration and a feeling of failure, neither of which is good for an organization in the long run. Moreover it is impossible to motivate people with something they have no control over.

Once KPIs have been shortlisted keeping individuals in mind all that needs to be done is discuss these KPIs with the respective people under whose domain they fall and help them align their teams to these KPIs.

So, while there is no ‘R’ in KPIs remember that there are no KPIs without relevancy.

Written By: Meghna Verma

Sexy Data = Smart Data + Beautiful Data

At Captain Dash we believe that data is sexy. Data is smart enough to tell a story and beautiful enough to delight your senses. Or at least it can be all those things. Smart Data

The world is already overwhelmed with data and the number of devices producing data outnumbers humans. This number is all set to explode by 2020.

What this means is that data is not going away and it IS the future.

As data has increased everyone has jumped on to the bandwagon of creating metrics. Everyone wants to know every possible thing that data can tell him or her.

As a generation we have become pros at adding performance metrics to as many things as possible – our health, our businesses, dating sites, even our social interactions!

But these metrics are just numbers again without the right context and the right vision. This is where story telling comes in. All the data that you or your business generate can tell a fascinating story when the right KPIs are applied to this data along with supporting facts, understandable charts and finally correlation.

Beautiful Data

Humans are visual beings. Not only do we judge people and things based on how they look but we digest information in matters of seconds when represented visually as opposed to the minutes or hours it would take to read it or listen to it. On top of that it is easier for us to retain a picture over a book.

So, of course visualizing data is key. But visualizations needn’t be boring pie charts. Visualizations should be harmonious, sleek and impactful!

They should make the viewer stop and spend time on them.

Sexy data

When you combine these two elements, the correct data with beautiful visual representations of it’s story, you have on your hands what we call sexy data.

This is the kind of data that is intuitive, hits the mark and is appealing to look at.

Going forward, the success of data depends entirely on turning the vastness and complexity of data into something simple and intuitive enough to attract its viewers.

Hence, how sexy your data is depends on how smart and beautiful you make it!

Written By: Meghna Verma

Consumers Are Players In The Game Of Marketing

The market is a multi player playing field. And the consumers are players too! Now, consumers can either play with brands or against them. Let me explain.

The fact that marketing and branding have been a focus for protests is nothing new. It is simply proof that advertising and marketing have become powerful. The new thing is that the opposition to brand names is no longer limited to ideological groups like Greenpeace or leftists.

With the development of digital networks and a new post-industrial consumer culture, it is ordinary consumers who wake up one morning and decide to play not with brands, but against them.

These are protesters who forsake official demonstrations for ‘flash mobs’ and press announcements for ‘posts’. Their weapons are blogs and social networks. They work in their pajamas, safe and warm at home, drinking soda to stay up all night online.

Their power is absolute. It is measured by their Google PageRank and the number of hits they receive.

Fighting a brand becomes a game. Points are tallied. Just as in a game, the raison d‘être is to free yourself from the rules, to master and transform them.

“Such and such a brand wants to impose this product or rule of consumption on me. Well, I have the power to challenge it.”

“This brand is dishonest; this product is of poor quality. Well, I have the power to advertise the fact.”

Consumers are therefore far more dangerous for brands than politically active groups, because their discourse is not ideological, but real consumer speak, which is far more likely to convince the vast majority.

This alone is a profound change in the relationship between brands and consumers. We no longer have complete power over the consumer. We are now in an equal marketing relationship.

Not only do consumers decode marketing strategies but, better still, they are capable of producing new ones or subverting them for the purposes of social or political mobilization.

With new media it often means that certain particularly skilful consumers have a greater capacity to distribute information on a large scale via the Internet than groups with a wealth of financial power at their disposal. The development of image alteration tools coupled with the viral effect means that anyone can become a marketing agent.

It also means that instead of playing against you they can play for you. They can be your voice, your brand ambassadors, your community leaders and your heroes.

These new consumers, symbolized by bloggers, instagrammers and social media savants are constantly on the move and it is up to the brands to internalize the idea that consumers have the power. The brands that understand this have a significantly better chance of coming out victorious in this game than those who do not.

Written By: Bruno Walther

Swarm Intelligence and Organizational Structure

Ants or bees are not exactly the most intelligent creatures in the world, individually speaking. Yet, get a million of them together and they manage to migrate, build gravity defying architectures and create very complex social systems. How do they do it? They combine their intelligences to form one big collective intelligence. Scientists call this collective intelligence Swarm Intelligence.

Swarm intelligence can achieve feats far beyond the capability of an individual. Most of the animal kingdom is ruled by this intelligence, in small or big groups. How swarm intelligence works for so many varied species is that it is based on the following 3 principles:

Flexibility – The ability of the group to change course or get creative when faced with an obstacle.

Robustness – Even if one individual cannot perform, the group can.

Self-Organization – No clear hierarchical leadership resulting in central control or supervision.

In fact, it is very rare to find a natural top down structure in nature where there is central control. For example, if the human body were organized according to a top-down structure, all the cells in the body would need to consult with the brain before acting. We would be literally incapable of moving and thinking at the same time.

Now, this holds true for companies that need to manage flows of information and be creative and innovative as well. Yet, humans love top down rigid structures, especially in business organizations.

Traditionally hierarchical organizations are structurally incapable of adapting to change and are incapable of taking new information onboard. Information has to reach the top of the pyramid before coming back down. It is a waste of time and a loss of efficiency that affects the company's creative potential and profits.

Successful companies have understood this. Highly innovative companies such as Google, Microsoft and Dreamworks have a dynamic, shifting network organizational structure. Teams are constantly forming and dissolving.

This kind of a structure is not flat. It is ever changing. It is cross-functional. This kind of structure, as we have discovered at Captain Dash, works very well when you are working with Micro Services. Instead of teams we have hubs. These hubs grow and move to make space for talent. New hubs can be created without damaging existing hubs.

The most successful managers will enlarge their hubs. Individuals know that such a system enables them to flourish. Their career will be determined by their talent, not their political ability to climb a pyramid-shaped structure.

This system is effective because it is natural.

There is no obstruction to the flow of information and chains of command are short.

Managers behave more like entrepreneurs than soldiers.

The key to success is the flexibility of decentralized networks.

Written By: Bruno Walther

 

The KPI Curse

KPIs have a way of turning many organizations on their heads. Sometimes this happens because there are too many KPIs and too much data being gathered but often times it is because KPIs are misunderstood.

KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator with the emphasis being on indicator though people often tend to put the emphasis on performance. Due to this, KPIs more often than not become very closely entangled with targets.

At Captain Dash when we consult with our clients over KPIs we advice them to narrow their KPIs down to metrics that are closely related to the global goals of the organization.

By this we mean that KPIs are not the goals themselves; instead they are indicators of said goals. For us, KPIs help us to measure certain data points that help us to determine the progress made towards achieving our goals and delivering on our key priorities. This thus implies that KPIs indicate whether we are on track or not. They exist to provide objective information, which helps us to strategize better.

If on the other hand when one uses KPIs as targets they end up as short-term numbers to be achieved by departments and just serve as a scorecard more than anything else.

There is of course a reason why KPIs and targets get mixed up together. Other than the fact that they are both metrics there is the fact that for KPIs to work they need targets or benchmarks. It is very easy to see these targets as the targets that the organization or departments need to achieve.

Do not let them confuse you, these benchmarks serve as a reference point to see if we are on track and how much adjustment is needed, if any, in our strategy.

If you use KPIs are the indicators they are meant to be and let them guide your strategy they end up as very powerful tools to guide improvements across the organization.

On the other hand, an indicator that you could implement to measure progress could be the Key Transformation Indicator or KTIs.

Written By: Meghna Verma

 

How to Read a Sankey Visualization

n dimensions + 1 metric

Shows the distribution of a metric on several dimensions, with the value of each dimension’s distribution shown on the next dimension.

Example : It’s possible to distribute the “visits” metric on a “types of visitors” dimension where the values could be “new” and “known”, then distribute the “new” and “known” on a dimension “sex” between male and female.

For Example: Let's say you want to track the entire journey of your visitors. Which channels do they come from? Which pages do they land and leave on?

You can clearly see that the majority of your visitors are new.

Sankey New visitors

Most of your new visitors come directly to your website via url, but a significant portion also come from referrals.

sankey referral

Your known visitors mostly come from organic search.

Sankey organic search

All of your organic search visitors accessed your website from google.com, and most of your referred viewers come from designmodo.com, designfestival.com or forum.vietdesigner.net.

sankey google

sankey designmodo

What about landing pages?

Direct and organic search visitors land on /the-company, /the-product or /home pages.

sankey companyUh oh...your referrals are landing on your /404 page.

sankey 404 You must have removed a page from your website which was referred to by an external link. Something must be done about your 404 page and your /511 page because people land on it and leave without ever finding your home page.

Is this the journey you had in mind for your visitors?

In order to play around some more with Sankey Visualizations you can head over to the visualization lair at Captaindash.com.

Micro Services - A Case for the Sidecar

One of the most fascinating traits of Micro Services is that they are polyglot or as we like to say here at Captain Dash – they are a Google translate that works.

There are obvious advantages of such an architecture, the biggest being that we can use the best tool for getting a job done.

On the other hand it has its fair share of challenges, the most prominent one being that separate libraries need to be maintained for each language used. While such an overhead seems acceptable for 2-3 languages, what happens when we are dealing with 6-8 of them?

Organizations traditionally used virtualization to tackle this issue but with the arrival of Docker on the scene most have moved to containers because of lower overheads. But, containers in Micro Services do exactly what they do in a home – they hide the mess not get rid of it! In this case the libraries still need to be built to facilitate communication except they are containerized.

Here is where sidecars come in. Named after the sidecars on a motorcycle a sidecar is a second application that runs alongside the Micro Service it is attached to and provides a language neutral interface for the micro service to communicate with. It can be said that a sidecar is a glue code that allows for the assembly of various Micro Services components.

Many teams are currently employing sidecars successfully for example Netflix and AirBnB.

They do, of course, come with certain disadvantages. The most obvious being that in process communication is smoother and less prone to bugging. Another issue being that sidecars cannot effectively access all the information inside the parent application.

There is also the point to consider that eventually sidecars will become obsolete because the Micro Services systems are evolving even as speak. Until that happens though the sidecar pattern is a great tool to add to your Micro Services set to facilitate communication and language neutrality.

To stay updated with our series on Micro services architecture follow us on twitter or subscribe to our blog.

Written By: Meghna Verma Meghna Verma is the CMO at Captain Dash.  You can reach her on Twitter @M3GV3RMa .

 

How to Read a Treemap Visualization

1 dimension (hierarchical or not) + 1 metric

A Treemap visualization represents a hierarchical dimension by encoding a metric on each node of the hierarchy.

Example : The hierarchical dimension of geography. On the first level, we can see the distribution of the metric between continents. We can then explore a continent to see the distribution between countries, etc.

Let’s say you want to check out where your visitors are located.

 

 

Treemap Captain Dash 1

Let's Analyze A Bit

At a mere glance, we can see that nearly have of your visitors are in Europe, a quarter in the Americas, the remainder in Asia, and but a few in Oceania and Africa. The “Explore” button gives us a closer look at Europe, revealing that half of those visitors are in the West and the rest are split evenly between North, East, and South.

Treemap Captain Dash 2

Another “Explore” click and we see that more than half of your Western Europe visitors are in France.

Treemap Captain Dash 3

A look at the Americas reveals that the United States accounts for 86% of viewers on the continent.

Treemap Captain Dash 4

Is that where you should open your new office?

In order to play around some more with Treemap visualizations you can head over to the visualization lair at Captaindash.com.

Streamlining KPIs

Measuring performance and aligning goals are synonymous today with KPIs. The most commonly heard complaint is how there are so many KPIs to measure. But, the way to make sure that you are on the right track is to pick out 5 to 10 KPIs.

Why? Because KPIs often have a way of getting confused with metrics. Yes, KPIs are metrics but not all metrics are KPIs.

Any activity that can be measured can be a metric but a KPI has to drive a competitive advantage.

So, what are the key points to be considered when you want to narrow down your metrics to just a few KPIs?

Know your starting point: Take a stock of where you stand with your objectives and metrics. Which metrics are still relevant, which ones are redundant and which ones are missing. What are you already doing at this point and where do you want to go from here.

Build downwards: Start to review your architecture from top down. From goals and results to the methods of achieving them and then down to the measures. When you reach the KPI level you should be able to distribute and allocate them easily.

Vet any new metric: With the amount of data we have coming our way it is very easy to have new metrics all the time and they all seem important to some stakeholder or another. You need to start vetting any proposed metric with a checklist so as not to add senselessly to your core.

Perform maintenance: Periodically go through your KPIs and see if they still serve the same purpose. See if they need to be looked into with the same frequency or can the frequency be reduced. This helps to make sure that no unnecessary components remain on your dashboards. Do not be afraid to replace one KPI with another if that is what works for you.

kpi-298x300.jpg

Of course the cliché of it all being industry related holds true in the end. The thing to remember is that while there is no golden rule the alignment of KPIs with goals is the formula to work with.

Read about Choosing the KPI that works for you.

Written By: Meghna Verma Meghna Verma is the CMO at Captain Dash.  You can reach her on Twitter @M3GV3RMa .

How to read Leaderboards

Leaderboard

The leaderboard displays a metric over a dimension in a way that allows you to easily categorize each dimension value’s “performance” in terms of the metric value.

Leaderboard Visualization Captain dash

In the example above, we can see the amount of revenue distributed over different dimension values (Points of sales). The dimension values are displayed in descending order, from the highest metric value to the lowest which allows us to “stack them” against each other. Travelling down the visualization, we can see that Shanghai is the point of sale selling more, followed by Berlin, then New York, etc.

The general statistics displayed allow us to determine the significance of each dimension value by comparing it to the Total and Average revenue per point of sale.

In order to play around some more with leaderboards you can head over to the visualization lair at Captaindash.com.

Two dimensional Leaderboards

These three different leaderboards essentially offer a different view depending upon how you wish to present your data.

Grouped Leaderboard

Grouped Leaderboard Captain Dash

 

 

The Grouped Leaderboard further segments the revenue by town into “Point of Sale A” and “Point of Sale B”, which allows for a more specific breakdown of information. The two values are grouped together vertically with the superior value appearing first.

Stacked Leaderboard

Stacked Leaderboard Visualization Captain Dash

 

The Stacked Leaderboard combines the two values together, which grants a view of each metric value as a “part of the whole.”

Superimposed Leaderboard

Superimposed Leaderboard Visualization Captain Dash

 

The Superimposed leaderboard displays the total amount of sales on a bar, with a specific segment highlighted for identification. In this case, we can visually pick out the “online sales” from the bar of total sales.

In order to play around some more with two dimensional leaderboards you can head over to the visualization lair at Captaindash.com.

Micro Services - Communication Between Services

Applications change with time and need but the business capabilities stay the same. Aligning our services and thus, the teams around our capabilities help us ensure that communication is not a hindrance.

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