Dig Deep, Dig Right: Maintaining a Relevant Metrics Program


A fundamental shift has occurred in the business world. The amount of data we collect is outpacing our ability to analyze and communicate the information contained in it.

However, if stood up correctly, an organization can utilize metrics to evaluate data most critical to the organization. In order to create metrics that serve the organizational programs that ultimately serve the business, keep these tips in mind:

  • The Goal-Question-Metric (GQM) model – The most valuable metrics pass the “who cares?” test, meaning there is a direct line between the result provided and the goal to be achieved. The Goal defines the result being pursued and outlines the rationale for data collection and measurements. Questions derived from these goals identify and direct the data collection and analysis to be taken in order to achieve the goal. Metrics represent the data collection and analysis executed to provide quantifiable insight into the questions.
  • Define the target area – A metrics program consists of specific metrics projects that must have a target area of focus. The target area is the area into which you want to improve visibility, communicate status and drive positive change.
  • Focus metrics on the right tasks – Some work falls under the umbrella of running the business or maintenance type work. This kind of work should be considered a regular activity and should not be placed in a metrics project because it may never be considered complete. If there is a need to measure this activity, like tracking of how much time is consumed on this type of work, simply leverage information in the ticketing system.
  • Identify core capabilities – Since there are many target areas on which to focus, one way to select an area is to gauge the fundamental strengths of organizational programs. The core capability analysis should be conducted twice -once to determine how the organization actually functions, and a second time to determine how it should function.
  • Track trends not just numbers – Focusing on a single metric forces people to concentrate on just one part of the work and ignore other factors that might make a goal more achievable. Trends allow the organization to determine if it is moving in the desired direction or at a fast enough rate, provide opportunities for the organization to react, and reduces the chances that the metric will be misinterpreted.
  • Track trends over short periods – Failing to make progress in a week is much less significant than failing to make progress over twelve months. Generate more opportunities to react and change course by reviewing progress more frequently.
  • Analyze and interpret – This is the core of the metrics program. Analysis and interpretation makes metrics useful, ensures accurate characterization of results, reduces misinterpretation and incorrect responses. This step also shows how the metrics compare with the corresponding goal, identifies influential factors and also identifies possible opportunities to change data collection techniques.
  • Create visualizations – Include graphical representations and consider including basic statistical information in order to provide a more complete explanation of the data and avoid inaccurate conclusions.
  • Change the metric when is stops driving change – Don’t hold on to metrics simply because you are used to collecting them. Understanding and identifying the metrics to retire will be easy because all the metrics have been explicitly linked to the goal and the short cycle tracking ensures continuous review of metric utility.

Metrics have a purpose and a place in every organization, but organizations must remain vigilant against the undesirable side effects of metrics and not allow them to become a substitute for situational awareness and creative thinking.  Following the tips described above will help.

Scott Severns is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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