How to Clean Up a KPI Mess With a Simple KPI Audit

by Stacey Barr |

Many organisations have a KPI mess: too many useless measures, not enough of the right measures, and little idea of exactly how many measures altogether. This mess is an unnecessary cost, and it’s not that hard to clean it up.

A KPI mess costs you more than you think. Take Martin, for example. He managed a freight business that had lots of KPI reports, and yet felt he didn’t really know what the business’s performance was actually doing.

We did a simple audit of all the KPIs his business produced, and found out some shocking things:

  • There were over 300 KPIs, many of which were different versions of what should have been the same KPIs.
  • There were nearly 50 KPI reports produced by various analysts, every month.
  • The 50 reports and 300 KPIs were taking more than 1,200 hours of effort every month to produce.
  • This effort was costing the business $480,000 a year (assuming the average hourly wage for an analyst is $40).

Martin was spending about half a million dollars a year on information he didn’t trust and couldn’t use.

Our KPI audit wasn’t just to quantify this bad news. It was the starting point for cleaning up the KPI mess. There are some essential bits of metadata we captured about each KPI, so we could make decisions like these:

The essential bits of metadata to capture for each KPI, in a KPI audit, are these:

  • The KPI’s name: Delivery Cycle Time
  • A description of the KPI, that makes it’s quantification clear and unambiguous: A weekly average cycle time of all the services we ran from loading the customer’s product at their mills to unloading the product at the port
  • The business goal or result the KPI directly relates to: Customers get their goods when promised
  • The calculation formula for the KPI: sum of (unload end time – load start time) for all deliveries, divided by total number of deliveries
  • The source data for the KPI: Operations Log Database
  • The owner of the KPI: Service Deliver Manager

That will do, at least for getting your KPI mess cleaned up. In PuMP we use a fuller Measure Definition framework, to make sure each KPI has a single and complete instruction for implementing it.

Look, I know a KPI audit isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. And if it’s not your idea of fun, then find a few colleagues who really love cleaning up messes and diving into details to do it.

Every once in a while we need to clean out the fridge. We need to get rid of the expired milk, the limp lettuce, the waistline-sabotaging triple chocolate fudge swirl ice-cream, and create space for kale and apples. Otherwise we’re wasting energy and space on keeping rubbish.

Don’t waste energy and space on rubbish KPIs.


Do you have a system for organising and maintaining a current and accurate set of details for all your organisation’s KPIs or performance measures?


Speak Your Mind

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  1. Using the EFQM-model, you can clean up first your strategic objectives. Only the goals in the 4 results area’s are real KPI’s. And there need to be a logic link with the actions in the 5 enabler-area’s. Eliminating and cleaning objectives seems to me a good start in cleaning the KPI-mess.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Tony you might be talking about the lead-lag relationship between the enabler categories and the results categories of the EFQM. And that’s just like the lead-lag relationships we hope to build in our KPIs.

      And I agree also that cleaning up objectives is a big step toward cleaning up our KPIs.

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