Checklist of the criteria for excellent measures

March 27, 2012 by Stacey Barr

Not everyone wants to (or indeed needs to) throw out their existing measures just because they aren’t perfect. To make sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, evaluate your measures using the following simple checklist and you might be surprised at the ideas you get to improve your not-quite-right measures, and cast a keener spotlight on those measures that really should be thrown away.

Oh, and a word of warning: No list of criteria is ever complete or ever totally correct. So as you read these and apply them, tune into the purpose of the criteria if the prescription just doesn’t fit.

1. Does it have clear link to strategy?

For your measure to be excellent, it must have a clear line of sight to your business direction – to your strategic goals or priorities. If you are measuring something and improving it won’t make any significant contribution to achieving your strategy or goals, do you really need to measure it? (Idea: design your measures at the same time you formulate your goals.)

2. Is it owned by someone?

Unless your measure is officially owned by someone – not a department, not a team, but a person – it’s super likely that it isn’t being used to make performance improve. It may not even be properly reported. Measures need an owner to make sure it is reported and used for the benefit of the business. (Idea: find a person who has enough authority to respond to the measure.)

3. Can it be brought to life?

Vague ideas, surveys and kooky acronyms are not measures. A measure needs to be spelled out in enough detail that you can know exactly how to calculate it, how often and from which data. (Idea: define the details of bringing your measure to life to test its viability.)

4. Are you able to track it regularly over time?

Before and after measures (which is what annual measures usually end up being) don’t give enough feedback to manage improvement efforts. Your measure must be tracked regularly enough (such as monthly or weekly) to give you clues about whether your improvement efforts are working, before it’s too late. (Idea: measure more frequently or find a lead indicator that you can measure more frequently.)

5. Does it give you more value than it costs?

Measurement doesn’t happen for free. But you need to be confident that the costs associated with its design, data collection and reporting are less than the benefits it brings to your business, which is usually through decision making and the resulting improvements you get for your bottom line or your stakeholder value. (Idea: remove waste and duplication from data collection and reporting, e.g. use sampling instead of measuring it all.)

6. Do users understand it?

If your measure is a convoluted index of other measures, or it’s calculation is difficult to explain in everyday language, it can make using it too daunting a job. (Idea: borrow from Ockam’s Razor and find the simplest measure that can convey the needed information.)

7. Does it inspire the right behaviour?

If your measure is not encouraging people to choose performance-improving behaviour over sweep-it-under-the-rug behaviour, it’s a candidate for throwing out. The measures that are the most potent in improving business performance are those that make it obvious – even unconscious – the right actions to take to get better performance results. (Idea: involve staff in designing the measures so they have more understanding and buy-in.)

These seven criteria are a good basis to judge your measures. You might like to make up a grid with your measures listed down the rows and these criteria listed across the columns. You can then do a quick evaluation of your existing measures, and see at a glance which to keep, which need some work, and which should probably been thrown away!

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