Structure in Threes: Metrics and Measurements

Spent the last few weeks divided between multiple projects and goals.  However, that gave me time to think about the topic of measurements.  Often in the IT field I see it being a great effort used to prove value or performance that ultimately has as its goal justifying existence.  When I hear about a new metrics initiative in most organizations it seems to boil down to how can we show with numbers that we’re meeting our targets.  All too often I think back to the radio show “The Prairie Home Companion” The closing words of the monologue are “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

This leads me to believe either we’ve set the bar too low or we’re measuring the wrong things.  About ten years ago I was at a senior leadership meeting at one of the well know technology powerhouses.  The one of the senior executives had, by edict, required a “serious” effort to measure performance.  The problem occurred not with the desire to measure, but the implementation of such.  There was no goal, other than measuring.  Thus each division, sub-division, unit, etc. identify metrics to report on.  In total over 1000 individual metrics of which cost the corporation lots of headcount to capture, collate, massage, and report at leadership meetings.  When asked if any of the these metrics were used to manage the organization or inform executives to make better decisions. I saw a lot of staring at shoes by people.  I asked why measure things if you’re not going to use the measurements to inform your decisions and directions; more shoe examinations.  Needless to say I was not invited back to a senior leadership meeting for a while.

Fast forward a few years later, the corporation is not doing as well as it once was and IT budgets are under fire.  I was brought back by a new leadership team; under cover.  That is I would dial in unadvertised and then consult to select members of the leadership team regarding my impressions and insights.  I think I was given this opportunity because during the previous incident I had predicted a scenario of what would happen to the IT org under its present course.  It was not a feat of great insight, it was merely a matter of connecting the dots. In either event I spent time with them, not specifically telling them what or how to measure, but why?  The old maxim “you get the behavior you measure” I’ve found almost true.  Often people measure what makes them look best.  Metrics are often tied to performance rewards.  This often eliminates these from being diagnostic tools.  This a little like the joke about the airplane captain announcing  on the PA system:  “I have bad new and good news.  The bad news is we’re lost. The good news is we’re making great time.”   Eventually there will be a crash.

Which brings me back to the metrics and measurements discussion.  Establishing a measurement program, one should first identify the strategic goals and objectives of the organization, then create metrics around those.  Next identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that support those goals and objectives.  I look at KPIs a little differently than most I guess.  I think the label says it all these are “indicators” of performance, not the actual performance.  These are sort of like road sides telling you your goal is 100 miles ahead, then 50 miles, etc. and your speedometer it indicating 50 miles an hour.  Together these KPIs help you determine if you’re on the right path and operating at the right levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

Which again gets back to a metrics program.  A useful program has a mixture of “strategic” and “operational” metrics.  The strategic metrics tell you where your going, the operational metrics support you in letting you know you’re making progress towards getting to your goal with your resources.

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About briankseitz
I live in PacNW in a small town and work for Microsoft as a Enterprise strategy and architecture SME. I enjoy solving big complex problems, cooking and eating, woodworking and reading. I typically read between 4-8 business and technology books a month.

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