How Do We Know Which Metrics To Use For Lasting Change?


Tuesday, 5.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave. – Eliyahu M. Goldratt

I’ve got to be up front with you here – I’m not a big fan of metrics.

They stand in the way like prickly, thorny bushes, reminding you to be careful or you’ll end up getting hurt.

For example, the other day I saw a chart – a simple table with a clear ranking of performance and it left an impression on me.

I didn’t want to be last.

At the same time, things have often worked only when I’ve counted as I went along.

Take losing weight, for example.

It doesn’t matter what you count – kilos on the scale, carbs, sugar.

It’s the act of counting that reminds you to watch what you eat.

It’s the same with money. When you don’t count where it goes, it somehow vanishes. When you do, it seems to stick around.

The trick is getting it to work for you.

Early in my career, for example, I kept timesheets in the style set out by Watts S. Humphrey in The Personal Software Process.

The idea was to keep track of start times, end times and interruption times.

That’s because you can often spend three hours working on something and find that half your time is taken up by interruptions.

When you have that kind of data you can either try and protect your time to get more done in each block or make more accurate forecasts about how much longer it’s going to take.

So if you’re collecting metrics because you’re trying to improve something for yourself – that’s easy enough to do and sustain.

If you’re trying to create metrics for a group – that’s a little harder.

It really depends on what happens if you don’t meet those targets.

If there are no sanctions then you’ll find that things will eventually just grind to a halt.

It’s hard collecting figures regularly – hard work extracting them from people who have other, “more important” work to do.

So it’s almost more important to design how you’ll collect metrics than the metrics you collect.

If you can get them automatically – then that’s the best way.

Anyone who blogs knows this – you keep an eye on your stats.

If you had to do it yourself you probably wouldn’t bother but because it’s built in it’s so much easier to do.

But it’s harder in business.

Take proposals, for example.

You create one, send it off and breathe a sigh of relief.

Can you always be bothered to update the trackers or logs?

Maybe you can be – and good on you for the willpower.

But in many cases, it’ll just be another thing to update at the last minute just before the report is run.

Perhaps what we need to realise is that metrics are good when you know you need to pay attention to something important – maybe something you want to change.

So perhaps selecting which metrics to use needn’t be a fixed thing.

You might have a few that you collect all the time – a little like taking the pulse of your organisation.

But then, to change things you might want to focus on one metric for a short time.

Like a high intensity session – where you try and go as hard as possible in a set amount of time.

The fact is it’s very easy to collect data for the sake of collecting data.

If you need to hit a target then you’ll do everything you can to do it – and if you can’t the temptation to fix the result is very strong.

Measuring something then is perhaps more than getting a result.

It’s the voice of the process – it tells you what is happening and how the system is performing.

If you want to create lasting change – you don’t target the metrics.

You change the system.

And if you do that right, your metrics should start to turn green.


Karthik Suresh

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