Books about business performance management tend to fall into two categories. On the one hand there are the high-level overviews of the discipline, usually heavy on case studies and inspirational success stories but light on actual prescriptions for achieving the same kind of results. And on the other there are the technical books that bury the average business reader in mounds of detail, leaving him or her once again unsure how to take action.

Bruno Aziza and Joey Fitts steer a middle course in Drive Business Performance: Enabling a Culture of Intelligent Execution (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2008). Their perspective is that of veteran solution developers, and their goal is to translate their experience into practical, jargon-free, actionable advice for leaders who want to get a grip on their organization's performance.

The result is a handbook of performance management strategy and tactics that offers some fresh insights as well as the promised road map to success. For example, the authors identify six stages of performance management value:

1. Increase visibility. Some organizations "don't know what they don't know," Aziza and Fitts point out -- they can't resolve performance problems because they don't know they have them. Better information can uncover opportunities as well as problems and enables the organization to adjust its strategy.

2. Move beyond gut feel. Intuitions and hunches are fine, and may turn out to have value, but to validate them you need access to data -- reliable data. That's what makes the difference between speculation and informed decision-making.

3. Plan for success. Basic corporate functions such as planning, budgeting, and forecasting are often poorly executed, Aziza and Fitts claim. Companies that move from annual, siloed processes to continuous execution can gain a competitive edge.

4. Execute on strategy. Achieving this capability is one of the main reasons why companies launch performance management efforts; organizations want to be able to do what they say they're going to do. Getting there takes time and hard work.

5. Power to compete. This is where benchmarks come in. Competing effectively means moving beyond internal metrics to industry comparisons.

6. Culture of performance. The end product of a successful performance management initiative is an organization in which responsibility for performance is pervasive, data-driven, and aligned.

The bulk of the book describes how managers can drive their organization upward through these six stages by developing the key performance management capabilities: monitor, analyze, and plan. Along the way, Aziza and Fitts offer case studies from corporations and government organizations struggling with the discipline and reaping its benefits.

These are not the usual magical success stories, however; the authors make no attempt to gloss over the challenges involved. For example, they quote Expedia's Laura Gibbons, manager of BI and performance management, who spearheaded the company's 2006 initiative: "It was very painful at the beginning, because after all the work done to collect and integrate data, analysts would still get berated in meetings with 'Your number's wrong. I'm sure your number is wrong. That can't be right.'"

Before long, though, with some basic tools in place, Expedia's project leaders found themselves inundated with requests for the information that the initiative was starting to generate. Today the business is running, in Gibbons' words, "truly like a heartbeat, where it's monitoring and alerting itself."

The prospect of that kind of success is enticing, and the book makes it seem doable.