Visual Management: reading your data story

Imagine sitting down to one of those spreadsheets. You know the ones. You’re introduced to columns that demand headings like AB, AC, AD and your mouse begs you to stop scrolling.

Now imagine it full of supplier information. At the top level, names, phone numbers, site addresses, vendor number, category, product etc. Then the next level of information: what emails have they been sent, which emails have they opened and more importantly, which emails have they acknowledged and responded to?

Struggling through spreadsheet after spreadsheet

You come to the conclusion that it’s inevitable.

At some point you’re just going to have to fetch out that swimsuit, snap on some goggles and dive – probably head first - into that sea of digits, decimal points and the laborious task of collating the results of countless telephone calls and surveys.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s going to take you to reach the bottom, you have to find out if your suppliers are listening to you. And if they’re not, you need to decide what you’re going to do about it. Because you have to do something, some things just cannot be ignored.

Recently, for example, the European Union changed legislation on product packaging and how it had to be displayed.

I was working with a major European retailer at the time and it suddenly became vital that their suppliers understood, and acknowledged, these changes in order to be compliant. Worse yet, there was an imminent deadline. After which, they could no longer do business in accordance with EU legislation.

They gave me three weeks and a list containing thousands of suppliers.

I was thrown into action. Who are these suppliers? Do they all need to understand the same parts of the legislation? Do we have correct contact details for them? How was I going to track all of them? The answer was ’with difficulty’ if I was going to use a spreadsheet. I am still having nightmares about all those columns, rows and goggles.

Hanging up that swimsuit

Fortunately for me, this was where visual management came in.

Visual Management ‘dashboards’ were like my very own gas meter. Instead of breaking the news that hot water in the morning was unlikely, they ultimately showed me how engaged my target group of suppliers were and where I should be focusing my next steps.

And so, we return to the European retailer and the legislation changes that were inducing my nightmares. As soon as the first mailing hit the thousands of inboxes of those chosen suppliers, I was tracking it. I was monitoring those dashboards daily, hourly at first. Just imagine how many spreadsheet exports it would have taken to track opens and clicks on that scale.

I could report on which suppliers confirmed they understood the new legislation, who hadn’t, who hadn’t opened or received the emails and who required support. Being able to track this information live and without the hindrance of mass exports meant I could target the suppliers that were non-compliant right up to the final moments before the deadline. Furthermore, I could adjust the campaign to get the best results based on what the dashboards were showing me.

Were a number of suppliers opening the mailing, starting to read the legislation and yet did not confirm that they had read or understood it? Simple, they either had concerns and questions or they did not understand. Using links to supplier self-help I could target them with a specific mailing and relevant answers. And watch the results via the dashboard change as they began to confirm that they understand the legislation.

For the supplier, it meant they didn’t miss the deadline and lose business with a major retailer. It meant compliance with legislation. For the retailer, they benefitted from full transparency, campaign tracking and all their suppliers acknowledging the changes in packaging laws within the deadline.

And me, well, the days of scrolling through columns AD to AZ were over. Visual Management is pretty much part of every project. It helps retailers, suppliers and our internal teams support the understanding of performance against Key Performance Indicators. In this case, legislative compliance. I have therefore hung up my swimsuit and sold my goggles on eBay.

Find out more about presenting complex data in a way that’s easy to understand using visual management dashboards.

Tags: Product insights, Supplier development

Alex Fitchett

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