Are These 8 Excuses Holding You Back From Great KPIs?

by Stacey Barr |

If your KPIs suck, even though you’ve long wished for better ones, it’s likely that something is holding you back. That ‘something’ could be a very good reason, or it could simply be an excuse that you’re mistaking for a reason.

There are good reasons for not prioritising the development of a good performance measurement system.

One reason is if your organisation has a blame culture, where there’s very little trust and teamwork, and where measures are used to punish and reward, rather than to learn and improve. There’s no point having better measures if they’re just going to be ‘gamed’ and used to hit people over the head.

Another reason is that your organisation has no strategy at all, and people simply have no idea what results matter or what the organisation is trying to achieve. There’s no point having measures if you don’t know which results matter and need improving.

But there’s a difference between reasons and excuses. Reasons are legitimate, and some change is needed before it makes sense to develop measures. Excuses are really just challenges that need reframing. Here are the most common ‘excuses’ for not developing better measures…

EXCUSE #1: “We don’t have the time to measure!”

The truth is, most of us don’t have time to measure. It’s always seen as the least urgent thing to do. It’s a lot like taking vitamins, practicing yoga, exercising regularly, and eating well. We can start that tomorrow, when we’re less stressed, busy, and tired.

And just like these preventative tactics, if we don’t start measuring we will continue to have no time for the important-but-not-urgent.

Good performance measurement creates time, it doesn’t destroy it.

EXCUSE #2: “We don’t have the budget for measurement!”

How much money is being spent on unnecessary data collection, reporting, rework, stuff that doesn’t really need to be done but no-one realises it, and fixing problems?

Measuring is an investment that gives you a huge return. It’s not a cost.

EXCUSE #3: “We don’t have control over the targets!”

We don’t have full control over anything, truth be told. But we do have influence. Many times I’ve witnessed people measuring something that mattered, and they’ve exceeded their targets. At the very least, they make a real improvement in the direction of the target.

Not pursuing a target is worse than trying.

EXCUSE #4: “We haven’t got enough data!”

You don’t need data to figure out which measures matter most. You need better measures to figure out which data matters most. Too often people miss out on the best measures because they let themselves be constrained by the data they already have.

You’ll never get the data you need until you know the measures you need.

EXCUSE #5: “We don’t have any BI tools!”

It’s very easy to set up a professionally designed, easy to update, and insightfully actionable performance report with basic Office applications like Excel. You don’t need business intelligence tools or the latest dashboard apps. Not at first, anyway.

I created a straightforward Excel template for a neat, Stephen-Few-style dashboard. Starting simple like this becomes a perfect way to quickly test your measures in practice, and then provide a design specification for a future BI project.

Good performance reporting is more about the design and the content than it is about the tool.

EXCUSE #6: “Our executive team haven’t made the strategy clear yet!”

Peter was the manager of a procurement process in a public utility (now he’s a Senior Executive). When he wanted to measure the procurement process and improve it, his executive hadn’t yet made the strategic goals clear, specific and measurable.

But he did manage to interpret what was there already, and meaningfully link his measures to the part of the overall strategy that procurement contributed to. He could still build a very visual line-of-sight from his operational teams through to strategic goals.

You probably do have a good enough handle on what matters, even if it’s being muddied by weasel words.

EXCUSE #7: “It all looks too complex and time consuming!”

The problem with a deliberate approach to performance measurement is that it makes the steps and tasks very visible. In contrast, all the time and effort that has gone into your measurement so far is invisible.

You probably haven’t yet estimated the hours that have gone into brainstorming measures, collecting data and reporting measures that really don’t get used.

Martin, a manager in a freight business, found that there were over 1200 hours of effort every month in reporting over 300 measures that were not relevant, full of duplication and ambiguity, and essentially in-actionable.

A deliberate approach doesn’t add time and effort, it takes it away.

EXCUSE #8: “We don’t have executive buy-in and support!”

For executives to support better performance measurement, they need to see the value in it. They need to see that by doing it, the organisation will be better: a stronger bottom-line, a better reputation, increased customer loyalty. Stuff like that.

So you need to demonstrate that good measurement has a positive ROI.

Reframe those excuses and become a ‘doer’…

Good performance measurement is for people who see the impact they want and commit themselves to do what it takes to get it.

Performance measurement is not sexy. But it’s also not about jumping through bureaucratic hoops. It’s about breakthrough.

But no exciting breakthrough ever comes without the price of effort.


Have you mistaken one of these excuses for a good reason not to make your KPIs better? How do you feel about it now. Join me on the blog for a chat about it.


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  1. Mark Maher says:

    Dear Stacey,

    Thanks for the great post.

    I have read some of Stephen Few’s work. Can you post a copy of the straightforward Excel template you mentioned here? I would really appreciate seeing an example of insightfully actionable performance report in Excel.

    Kind regards


    • Stacey Barr says:

      Mark, I think I’ll do a blog post on my personal favourite dashboard design in Excel, so the explanation and logic is clear. It’s now in my future article topic list!

  2. Mark Maher says:

    Thanks very much Stacey. I look forward to reading it. Can I add another possible future post request? Or could you answer this question here or in an email?
    I work as a data manager at a secondary school in England. I have read and learned alot from Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos by Donald J. Wheeler thanks to you recommending this book.
    The question I have is how do I help a senior teacher understand that performance figures can vary and be lower but that this doesn’t mean we are not improving or getting worse. For instance, one KPI for English secondary schools is the percentage of pupils in a given year group making 4 levels of progress in a subject. If one year group shows a reduction of this figure, can this be down to natural variation or do XmR charts not apply as each year group is made up of a unique group of pupils with differing contexts and so it isn’t possible to look for natural variation limits?

    Thanks in advance for any help you can give.


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