Scorecards and Dashboards – Is there a Difference?

Is there really a difference between a scorecard and a dashboard? I’m of the opinion that it’s only a matter of syntax or semantics. I think that dashboard is a wonderful term that includes all manners of scorecards, performance measurements and other sorts of at-a-glance kpi and metric info.

But I do get the point that the term dashboard has become somewhat diluted. I always point out the term “Dashboard” will become the “Homepage” replacement. I can’t think of anything better than a dashboard to put on the homepage. What software application wouldn’t benefit from having a dashboard as homepage?

One person that takes the viewpoint that there is indeed a difference between “dashboard” and “scorecard” wrote an article titled “WHAT IS the Difference Between Performance Management Scorecards and Dashboards?” You can view it here.

Here is the illustration they use. Take a look at this simple health dashboard:

health performance dashboard

Here is what they use it to illustrate:

Imagine that we have a dashboard that displays 3 health metrics: weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol for the person below. Let’s call him healthy Henry. A well designed dashboard can be an extremely powerful and critical tool for any business. However, there are limitations. We can see Henry’s weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol, but we have no context to put it in. We don’t know if the numbers are bad or good. OK, we know they are pretty bad; but are they bad for Henry? We also don’t know if they are trending up or down, or if there is a target number and how close or far from that target Henry is. It’s possible that Henry is improving or simply staying the same. It is also impossible to derive exactly where the problems are coming from. This is the problem with a dashboard, there is no context.

Performance management scorecards look at the world differently. A performance scorecard is a representation of the progress over time. The key difference is that they provide context into where the metric comes from, using something called a KPI (key performance indicator.) KPIs can be stand-alone numbers or calculations derived from other numbers. The important factor is that they show the user not just the “What’” but the “How” and “Why.” Let’s go back to Henry and look at his Scorecard.


We can see how well Henry is doing this week relative to last week and overall relative to his goal. For example, Henry only ate 14 burgers this week, compared to 18 last week. Although he has not yet reached his goal of only 5 burgers per week, we can see from the green color coding under “progress” that he is improving. However Henry was called into his son’s principal’s office 4 times this week, which is worse than last week, thus the red color code.

This chart also illustrates which KPI inputs into which metric on the dashboard. For example Burgers Eaten affects Weight and Cholesterol, while Yoga affects Weight and Blood Pressure. In this manner, a health manager, or any manager, can use these tools to decide which metrics are important to the desired outcome.

kpi metrics scorecard

Now apply this to a business. For example, the manager of a customer service operations might care about Productivity and Quality. KPIs that could be used as determining factors include throughput (# of items processed/calls taken), adherence to schedule (% time in production vs. schedule), and items flagged for rework (not done correctly the first time.)

In this way, a manager can make better management decisions by focusing on the KPIs that matter. Then the manager can use the Dashboard for period check-ins, and the Performance Management Scorecard for more strategic decisions. When Dashboards and Scorecards are used correctly, the health of the business, and Henry, can improve.

So, what do you think? I like the story about Henry, but I’m not really sure it makes the point of there being a real difference between scorecard and dashboard. To me, a dashboard can indeed contain performance measures shown over time. Look at the hundreds of successful dashboard examples found on the Dashboard Spy blog.

Fitness Dashboard with Live Scorecard

Once in a while, an enterprise dashboard screenshot reveals its true genius and value only after it sits in our brains for a while. Take a look at this fitness dashboard to see what I mean.

This was grabbed from a marketing page on a website for Orangetheory Fitness. I don’t know what the site or the business is about but I grabbed this screenshot of a person exercising in front of an executive dashboard of sorts.


My first thought was how cool it was to have access to a large dashboard while exercising. Visions of checking KPIs and metrics while working up a sweat in the corporate gym flashed through my mind. But I was being silly. The true genius of this scorecard is in the social aspects and the effect it would have on the dashboard user.

Let’s walk through this use case:

Bill starts working out and sees that his goal is such and such. He’s reached a certain level or sees that his KPIs are whatever. But the real effects come when he compares himself to the others in the gym. See how this dashboard can bring up the competitor in the dashboard users? Get it? Now it has the power to keep the user engaged and working harder to show better metrics and rankings.

It took me a while to catch onto the social effects here. I think this is a brilliant use of a dashboard in a real-world environment. I’m going to look at more examples.

The Dashboard Spy

A Quick Course in Balanced Scorecards

Here’s a quick tutorial on Balanced Scorecards. It’s absolutely free and you can use this link for a direct download of the pdf version of the course: The Balanced Scorecard: Step by Step Guide to Build a Balanced Scorecard.

Here’s a quick look at the overall process of building a balanced scorecard:

The process consists of seven steps over three phases:

  • Phase I: The Strategic Foundation
    • Step 1: Communicate and align the organization around a clear and concise strategy. This is the fundamental starting point behind everything else. Your strategy is what“feeds” the Balanced Scorecard.
    • Step 2: Determine the major strategic areas or scope for getting the organization focused on those things the organization can actually do.
    • Step 3: Build a strategic grid for each major strategic area (step 2) of the business. Out of all the steps in the entire process, this can be the most difficult since we must take our entire strategy (step 1) and transform it into specific terms that everyone can understand. And everything must be linked to form one complete strategic model.
  • Phase II: Three Critical Components
    • Step 4: Establish Measurements: For each strategic objective on each strategic grid, there needs to be at least one measurement. Measurement provides the feedback on whether or not we are meeting our strategic objectives.
    • Step 5: Set Targets for each measurement: For each measurement in your scorecard,establish a corresponding target.
    • Step 6: Launch Programs: Things will not happen unless the organization undertakes formal programs, initiatives or projects. This effectively closes the loop and links us back to where we started – driving the strategy that was formulated in phase I.
  • Phase III: Deployment
    • Step 7: Once the Balanced Scorecard has been built, you need to push the entire process into other parts of the organization until you construct a single coherent management system. This pulls everything together, allowing successful execution of your strategy.

And here’s a look at some of the tools in the course:

Difference between Balanced Scorecard and Enterprise Dashboard

Update: The topic of “dashboard” vs. “scorecard” is still alive and kicking about in business intelligence circles. Take a look at this recent post:

What is the difference between a scorecard and a dashboard?

A Dashboard Spy reader who is getting involved in a balanced scorecard reporting project asked me the difference between enterprise dashboards and balanced scorecards. He was getting confused between all the different approaches that his team could take. We had an interesting conversation with a couple of interesting screenshots that we passed back and forth. I thought it valuable enough to share with you today.

An interesting webpage on the difference between balanced scorecards and enterprise dashboards can be found here: Dashboards vs. Scorecards.  The page states correctly that the difference lies in the degree of “balanced scorecard formality”, that is, the balance scorecard approach has strict elements:

Components of a True Balanced Scorecard: While both Balanced Scorecards and Dashboards display performance information, a Balanced Scorecard is a more prescriptive format; a true Balanced Scorecard should always include these components: Perspectives (groupings of high-level strategic areas), Objectives (verb-noun phrases pulled from a strategic plan), Measures (also called Metrics or Key Performance Indicators/KPIs), and Stoplight Indicators (red, yellow, or green symbols that provide an at-a-glance view of a Measure’s performance). These specific components help ensure that a Balanced Scorecard is inherently tied to the organization’s critical strategic needs.

They provide the following example of a balanced scorecard dashboard:

Balanced Scorecard Dashboard

This is contrasted against the more loosely defined standard of an enterprise dashboard:

Dashboards – More Loosely Defined. The design of Dashboards, on the other hand, is much more open to interpretation. Most Dashboards are simply a series of graphs, charts, gauges, or other visual indicators that a user has chosen to monitor, some of which may be strategically important, but others of which may not. Even if a strategic link exists, it may not be clear to the person monitoring the Dashboard, since the Objective statements, which explain what achievement is desired, are typically not present on Dashboards.

As an example of a dashboard, the company took a subset of the above balanced scorecard and presented it as a more high-level KPI dashboard. It focuses on presenting a manufacturer’s sales KPIs.

Manufacturing sales KPI dashboard

Tags: Balanced Scorecard vs. Enterprise Dashboard, Manufacturing KPIs and Metrics, Enterprise Dashboard Design, Balanced Scorecard Methodology, Difference between scorecards and dashboards

Dashboard Spy Reader bonus link: Download article from the Harvard Business Review – The Balanced Scorecard – Measures That Drive Performance

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