Put the Right Metrics in Place

Metrics have a purpose and a place in organizations and teams. They cannot be used as a substitute for thinking. Nor can organizations think management by numbers is enough for effective project delivery.

With an appropriate use of metrics, every single measure should clearly be linked to its original purpose. The mechanism for tracking and monitoring must be decoupled from its goal and that goal made explicit to help people better understand the metric’s intent.

A metric in a richer context for its existence guides people in making more appropriate, pragmatic and ultimately useful decisions towards the goal. Without its purpose, the effort expended means people find ways to creatively game their system, ultimately detracting from the real goal.

When comparing values, it’s easy to see one number is bigger or smaller than another, or how distant one number is from another. It’s much harder to see if that number is still relevant. When you turn a qualitative and highly interpretive issue (think of productivity, quality, and usability) into a number, any figure is relative and arbitrary. Looking at trends provides more interesting information than whether or not a target is met.

Trends provide leading indicators into the performance that emerges from organizational complexity. It is clearly pointless focusing on the gap in a number when a trend moves further and further away from a desired state.

A good use of metrics also means frequent inspecting and adapting these influences to ensure trends accelerate, decelerate and reverse in the context of an end goal that is constantly evaluated for fitness. The most appropriate use of metrics also means understanding when measures are no longer relevant, replacing them, or dropping them as progress is made towards the goal and the environment changes around it.

Summing-up: Metrics can make all the difference in moving an organization from “good” to “great.” They can help the organization focus on the important items and inspire the team to make adjustments when needed.  However, you need to be careful with metrics, because they can result in bad behavior if suboptimal work is done simply to improve the numbers.

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