How to Navigate Through the Measures Universe

by Stacey Barr |

Imagine there is a universe of measures. It’s the all-encompassing collection of anything an organisation happens to measure. Navigating through the universe of measures, to decide how, when, why and whether to use each of them, is a massively overwhelming task.

Let’s see if we can put some order to the chaos of the measures universe. We’ll start with a model that uses the simple dimensions of ‘importance to improve’ and ‘urgency to improve’.

model of universe of measures

Performance measures: important and urgent.

Performance measures are a subset within this universe of measures. They are measures of business results that are currently important and urgent to improve, given the current strategic direction. This strategic direction acts like a gravity that pulls the relevant measures from all levels in the organisation into alignment with the current goals.

Political measures: urgent but not always important.

Political measures are another subset within the universe of measures. They are measures of business results that are currently important to external stakeholders of the organisation, and therefore potentially urgent for the organisation to produce for these stakeholders.

More often than not, political measures are different from performance measures, because they align more to the strategic needs of the stakeholders and not to the strategic needs of the organisation. So for the organisation itself, they are not important. They are an information product provided for external stakeholders.

Industry benchmark measures: urgent but not always important.

Industry benchmark measures are a subset of the universe of measures. They are measures of business results that are shared across similar organisations. Sometimes industry benchmark measures can be performance measures, but only when they align directly with the strategic direction of the organisation.

Industry measures tend to intersect a lot with political measures. So again, they monitor business results that aren’t particularly important to improve, from the perspective of the organisation itself. But there can be an urgency to produce them, for the sake of the external stakeholders they are important to.

Business-as-usual measures: important, but not urgent.

Business-as-usual measures are a subset of the universe of measures. These are measures of business results that might be important, but are not urgent to improve, in the context of the current business environment and strategic direction.

In the past they might have been performance measures, and in the future they might become performance measures. But only if they are direct evidence of a strategically important business result. So at any given point in time, business as usual measures will not overlap with the current performance measures.

Everything else: not urgent and not important.

Every other measure in the universe of measures is like a piece of space junk. They are measures of things that aren’t important to anyone, and aren’t urgent to improve. Usually they come into existence because the data was there and someone thought it should be used, despite not having a clear use for it. Often they are trivial counts of how much activity is being done.


What’s missing from these classifications of measures within the Measures Universe? Would you describe the classifications differently? Let’s see if your ideas can improve the Measures Universe model.

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  1. Jeff Wilkins says:

    This is a very helpful way to look at measures and for deciding priority of which are relevant in the current business climate. What stands out for me is the overlap between performance measures and business as usual measures. We have high level performance measures that support our overall business objectives that sometimes feel like business as usual. But in support of those we have more specific performance measures that helps us pinpoint where focus is needed for improvement. For example, on time delivery to our customers is measured monthly and to some departments it is business as usual. It goes up and it goes down but we try improve for an upwards trend. behind this measure is our tracking of reasons for late shipments by department that tells us where real improvements can be made. And we can all guess which of these measures can cause stress and urgency from the CEO down to the departments. Nice article. Thanks.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Jeff, I would suggest that your measure of on time delivery to customers is a performance measure, not a business as usual measure – simply because you say it’s important and that you want it to go up. A business as usual measure, at least as I intended in the measures universe model, is one that we don’t need to improve – it’s just tracking along.

      And you’re right: it’s the causal analysis we do to explore why a measure is doing what it’s doing that’s most revelational and actionable!

  2. Mike Butler says:

    Brilliant – simple and practical as always!

  3. Tom G says:

    Great brain food – thank you.
    Here is a stab at using the presented quadrant. If what Covey said about the quadrants is true, the opportunity for leverage lies in the Not Urgent/Important corner. I would say that in your model the daily business measures are the leading operational measures that result in the Outcomes I would expect to see in Important and Urgent. It is in the mundane pile of the everyday measures that one can find the opportunities to advance cycle time and quality resulting in satisfaction and cost improvements. It takes tools and knowledge to look at this quadrant. Again, using a Covey-ism, if the low urgency/highly important is ignored, it will become urgent. If this is not true, it is not important.

    In response to your challenge, what if we used Value Add/Non Value Add and Internal/External for the matrix. The goal would be to push everything out of the Non Value Add Quadrant by understanding it. My misperception gets corrected and I modify it or push it to Value Add or it gets killed. Might be a great opportunity to get inside a customer’s system and influence them to recognize a unique contribution of your firm?

    Thanks and I hope the kayak ride was a hoot! (Americanism for a fun time.)

  4. Diane Maki says:

    This is an illustration of how a quadrant with appropriately labeled axes can be a powerful strategy and decision-making tool. Thank you, Stacey, for your insight!

    Two other measures I suggest:
    Employee satisfaction: Important/Not Urgent
    Customer satisfaction: Important/Urgent

  5. H Kesavan says:

    Hi Stacey,
    I love the way you have used the popular Eisenhower time management matrix to provide a new twist to the way one should look at the universe of measures.

    Good illustration! Thanks!

  6. Rich Torr says:

    As a classification I think this is great Stacey; simple & visual. I can imagine some robust discussion about where existing ‘pet’ and ‘best practice’ KPIs might be placed. It got me thinking whether you could plot these categories according to some objective ‘information value’? ‘Important’ is the magnitude of the information value returned by the measure – the cost of the uncertainty, of not having the measure. ‘Urgent’ is the time horizon – how quickly the decision or improvement which is informed by the measure needs to be made…

  7. Hi Stacey,
    Interesting categorisation. It does occur to me that often a measure can appear in different categories dependent upon time and context. For example maintaining customer satisfaction may be BAU at one time and Strategic during periods of change at another. What advice do you have to address this situation?

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