In a recent presentation, I explained the importance of asking the right business questions for the purpose of driving the business. I shared that the best possible analogy is one that we encounter daily – the gas gauge. Consider the image below for a moment. What do you see? (Don’t you just love obvious, rhetorical questions in a blog?) This important, frequently-checked gauge on the car is always prominently displayed on the dashboard. Its sole function is to tell you how much gas is in the tank and, little-known fact, it has the side benefit of an arrow that tells you which side of the car you need to pull up to at the gas station.


Such a critical Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for your car! But the fact of the matter is that you don’t care how much gas you have. When you look at the gas gauge, all you really want to know is: Do I need to get gas, right?

Car companies have increasingly caught on to this fact (and technology is definitely helping). Newer cars are now actually telling you that critical piece of information: Miles to Empty = 18. What has this simple change in question and answer resulted in for drivers?

  • An increase in confidence. You no longer have to guess if a ¼ tank will get you 50 miles or five miles. Whew!
  • An increase in focus. Because you aren’t worried about running out of gas when you least expect it, you can pay attention to other critical information (like not speeding).
  • Better decisions. Rather than stopping at the next gas station (just in case), you can actually hold out another ten miles to get to the one that has those awesome Krispy Crème donuts. Win-win!

So what does all this have to do with your information systems and KPIs? Everything! If you focus on getting answers to the right questions, you can free yourself up from all the second guessing, wondering and distraction. Chances are that you don’t actually want to know what your production numbers are for today. What you really want to know is are you producing enough to reach your target today? Ask the right questions and get the right answer!

P.S. Gas gauges also do another cool thing – they alert you when your fuel gets to a critical level with the much-dreaded warning. Or in the case of my 1980s Nissan 300ZX, you get a great Knight Rider voice politely announcing that “your fuel level is low.” How ultra-efficient that you can largely ignore that information until it tells you! I have strong feelings about this too, but I’ll save that for another day. Right now, I need to go read my car manual and see what other cool stuff it can do for me.

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