How Long Does it Take to Implement KPIs?

by Stacey Barr

Many factors mess with a perfect KPI implementation. Some we can control, some we cannot. Use this guide to set reasonable expectations, whether you’re starting out or rolling out.

Set reasonable expectations, whether you're starting out or rolling out. Credit:

Dean Spitzer, author of the modern-day classic “Transforming Performance Measurement” said this recently, when I facilitated him through designing measures of family health (for the ministries he works with):

That’s really the point that I want to leave people with is the idea that this is a multi-phase, multi-stage process. So that’s what you’re often doing, you’re often working with a team or one or two other people, and coming up with some hypotheses for measurable things and constructs and measures. And then you go out and talk to other people in the organization or other stakeholders, and then you refine it. So it’s a process of refining over time. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not instantaneously, okay. We’re going to spend two hours and come up with a measurement instrument that’s going to be totally valid and reliable. — Dean Spitzer

Dean’s referring to the fact that those outcomes or goals that are hard to measure need time to unpack and to understand. Brainstorming measures for a complex outcome is as futile as putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Doing performance measurement properly requires us to think differently, to collect data differently, to engage people differently. Doing things differently takes time.

One of the hardest things to prepare for, and to cope with, is the time it takes – in reality – for transforming performance measurement.

The time it takes to complete each phase of KPI implementation has few components: elapsed time, effort time, rework time, and spinning-wheels time. All these can blow out the actual time, compared to the planned time for a KPI roll-out. As we explore the three main phases of rolling out a KPI methodology, I’ll share some of the common reasons for this blow-out, along with some suggestions to mitigate it.

Phase 1: KPI Pilot.

The idea of a KPI pilot is to test or practice a new methodology for measuring performance. We say to aim for an 8-week PuMP Pilot. That’s because there are eight steps in PuMP, and when we’re focused on testing and practicing, one week per step is enough.

But in reality, few teams manage an 8-week pilot. It’s more like 3 to 6 months for a first implementation of a KPI methodology like PuMP. That’s due, in most cases, to these reasons:

  • Lack of the right data for new meaningful measures
  • Taking on too many goals (a pilot should focus on measuring just one goal, and implementing just one or two new measures)
  • A Measures Team that’s too large

But we can speed up our PuMP or KPI Pilots, to more quickly arrive at a decision on the new methodology we’re testing and practicing, by doing these things:

  • Focus on just one, single goal to measure.
  • When we design a measure, and find there is no data available, set up something quick and manual, rather than waiting for a complete new data process.
  • Run several pilots in parallel, with different Measures Teams.

In summary, the pilot testing phase of implementing a new KPI methodology can take between 2 and 6 months. It will take longer if it’s not treated as the concise pilot it’s supposed to be. So be wary you’re not actually starting with Phase 2, as we’ll explore now.

Phase 2: Organic Engagement.

After the KPI Pilot phase, there will be more people aware of and interested in the new KPI approach. Teams will put their hands up to try it out. At this stage, each team’s first full implementation of a KPI methodology will be broader than the pilots. It will include most, if not all, the goals currently important to the team. And that will take more time than a pilot because we need extra time for things like:

  • more discussion time to design a larger set of KPIs or measures
  • a larger scope of data to collect or access
  • building a more formal performance dashboard or report

This can take another 3 to 12 months. A few things will slow it down, as we’ve learned from our PuMP Community:

  • Low management support, which will lead to other priorities taking over
  • Resources not available or prioritised to fund new data collection and report design
  • Managers and Measures Team members not understanding the new methodology yet, and old KPI habits therefore getting in the way

Therefore, to speed it up, we can:

  • Get management support early on, even inviting the key manager to join the Measures Team, or visit them regularly.
  • Be prepared to adopt some manual data collection, to both test what’s really needed and give guidance to future system development.
  • Provide a solid introduction to the KPI methodology first, like the PuMP Mind Map.

In summary, the Organic Engagement phase of implementing a new KPI methodology can easily take between 3 and 12 months. It will take longer if it doesn’t have management support, so that will be the priority before this phase can succeed enough to enable the third phase.

Phase 3: Strategic Alignment.

It seems that this should be the first phase, doesn’t it? But rarely do we find organisations are able to start a KPI methodology roll-out from the top. It’s not always the leadership team that discovers the need, or discovers the KPI methodology to try. So most KPI implementations start somewhere within an organisation.

Extending the implementation of a KPI methodology to build top-down alignment takes several stages. In PuMP those stages are:

  1. Strategic direction is measured
  2. Strategic direction is communicated, ready to cascade
  3. Teams align their goals to the strategic direction
  4. All levels of measures are implemented and reported
  5. Strategy is executed to reach the first targets

A full implementation of a KPI methodology to align the organisation to the strategic direction can take 2 to 5 years. The first year is often getting the strategic direction measured meaningfully, communicated clearly, and cascaded to the first layer of organisational
hierarchy, such as departments or business units. Then the second and third years are when strategy is cascaded further into operational teams. A few things can slow this down:

  • The size of the organisation, relative to how swiftly it can engage people in the change and adapt its systems to the change
  • The degree to which the organisation’s performance culture has shifted away from blame and toward collaboration
  • How much maturity there is in the processes that measurement must mesh with, such as strategy design and execution

It’s fair to say that we generally underestimate the cost of change (any kind of change). And progress in implementing a KPI approach over the longer term, therefore, can wane when we run low on energy, time and money. We can anticipate a few things, however, and avoid slowing down unnecessarily:

  • Properly planning resources for organisation-wide awareness and education in the new KPI methodology
  • Leadership persistently reminding everyone of the vision of better measurement, and holding the space for people to participate in Measures Teams, to update data systems, and use measures to improve performance
  • Centrally managing the meshing of performance measurement with other organisational processes, to make it part of ‘how we do things around here’

In summary, the Strategic Alignment phase of implementing a new KPI methodology realistically takes a few years. So that it doesn’t die before it succeeds, leadership support for better measurement has to be consistent and persistent.

There is no shortcut.

Implementing a proper approach to KPIs and performance measurement takes time. More time than many leaders, managers and employees might expect or want. Or even be able to cope with. Many will give up. But a few will hold on, they’ll stay the course and build a performance measurement system for their organisation that transforms its performance. The few that hold on are the organisations that will excel at what they exist to do.

But we don’t all have to wait years before a full performance measurement implementation will be worth it. Sometimes even one KPI pilot can put millions back onto the organisation’s bottom line. Getting started matters more than the plan to finish.

Transforming performance measurement in any organisation takes years. There is no shortcut to make the necessary changes to how we think about and practice measurement so it truly can transform performance. [tweet this]

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