3 Steps to Triage BAU Measures For Action

July 14, 2020 by Stacey Barr

Business-as-usual (BAU) measures are not priorities for improvement like strategic performance measures are. But we still need to monitor them in case action is needed.

Both meaning and signal come together to triage the right action. Credit: VikiVector

Business-as-usual (BAU) measures track the results that still matter in a business or organisation, but currently are not priorities for improvement. In other words, they are measures that are not currently in the suite of strategically important performance measures. (More on the different types of measures here.)

But just because it’s not a priority for us to set targets for improvement in BAU measures, doesn’t mean we ignore them.

Improvement versus correction.

Strategy is about lifting the performance of the organisation, while management is about maintaining the performance of the organisation. The primary action of strategy is improvement, and the primary action of management is correction. And because of this, we’re interested in different types of signals.

Signals, or the lack of signals, only become information when they have the context of expectation or intention.

“Without context words and actions have no meaning at all.” – Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature

For strategic performance measures, the context is an expectation to improve from a baseline to a new targeted level of performance. For BAU measures, the context is an expectation to maintain baseline performance.

Imagine that we have a strategic performance measure of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), it’s because we want to improve it. Perhaps we’ve consistently had a baseline CLV of $4,450. And now it’s a strategic goal to grow our customer profitability, so we set a new target for CLV of $6,000.

Now, imagine that we have a BAU measure of Customer Satisfaction. It’s not a priority to improve it right now, because its baseline is already very good, sitting at 8.5 out of 10 (and because other areas of performance matter more to improve right now). What we don’t want is to see Customer Satisfaction decrease, though.

Signals for improvement versus correction.

In PuMP, we use XmR charts to visually monitor all performance measures, BAU measures included (here’s why). But the context for the signals is slightly different for strategic performance measures
versus BAU measures:

  • For our strategic performance measures, we’re interested in signals that tell us if our change
    initiatives are working to move baseline performance closer to targeted performance.
  • For our BAU measures, we’re interested in signals that tell us if performance worsened relative to baseline performance.

Humans give the meaning; statistics give the signal. Both meaning and signal come together to trigger the right action.

Three steps to triage BAU measures for action.

BAU measures are not, and should not be, placed in our performance monitoring reports or dashboards. There, they will be a distraction away from what has been set as the strategic priorities for the organisation. What we need for BAU measures is what Nick Desbarats calls problem scanning displays.

Scanning displays help us triage our BAU measures for action by putting the focus on deteriorations in performance that are not acceptable. To achieve this, Nick combines both the statistical rigour of XmR charts with the human judgement that together trigger action, only and always when action is needed. He calls this the “four-threshold method“.

But just because a bunch of BAU measures show unacceptable deteriorations in performance, it doesn’t mean we have the resources to fix all of them, at once. We need to triage, and treat the most urgent first.

To triage our BAU measures for necessary-only action, here’s how we could go about it:

  1. Filter out the BAU measures that have a signal showing performance has fallen below baseline, or outside of specifications. The statistical rigour of XmR charts does its job here.
  2. From the BAU measures filtered out in step 1, filter out those which are going to do the most damage if left untreated. This is where some human judgement, and possibly some data analytics, comes in.
  3. From the BAU measures filtered out in step 2, rank them in priority order, and allocate them to the right teams with the right authority to correct them.

We don’t have to confuse or confound our organisational performance management by blending BAU measures with strategic performance measures. They are two different types of measures, and we monitor them with two different purposes.

Humans give the meaning; statistics give the signal. Both meaning and signal come together to triage the right action.
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