Why You Should Quit Brainstorming KPIs

by Stacey Barr

We brainstorm KPIs and performance measures because it seems easy and fast. So why change to another KPI selection method? Because brainstorming isn’t as easy and fast as we might think.


The cost of brainstorming KPIs is hidden beneath most people’s conscious awareness like sharp rocks beneath muddy water.

To raise awareness of the waste produced by brainstorming KPIs, we need evidence of that waste. We can see this evidence in the actual brainstorming session itself, but we must also look out for it after the brainstorming is over. Just look for this kind of evidence:

  • The amount of time people in the brainstorming session argue or debate over which KPI is better, or push for their favourite KPI to win.
  • The number of days in effort and days in elapsed time between the brainstorming session and the point at which enough stakeholders agree to use the KPI. Sometimes it’s never!
  • The number of times the wrong measure was implemented and reported because the brainstormed KPI wasn’t specific enough for data analysts to know exactly what was needed.
  • The lost opportunity to make performance improve, which is the number of days from the KPI being brainstormed to the day on which it shows a shift closer toward target.

And there are some very good reasons why brainstorming KPIs produces this waste:

  • Brainstorming produces KPIs that aren’t real measures (like milestones or actions or vague concepts) – and this means we waste time designing, documenting and implementing so-called measures that don’t help us understand and improve performance.
  • Brainstorming starts with the question “how could we measure this goal?” – and almost never takes the time to check if the goal is measurable first.
  • Brainstorming is more of a popularity contest than a critical analysis of which KPI will work best. Measures of any kind need to be as relevant and feasible as possible – not just popular.
  • Brainstormed measures are often too vague to be implemented – they’re just a simple name or label and not enough description or detail to make implementation quick and easy.

Brainstorming was designed as a creativity tool, to open up minds so all possibilities can be considered. KPI and measure selection is not a creativity exercise. We want to narrow down on the best evidence of our goal, and that is a logic exercise, not a creativity exercise.

What to do instead of brainstorming KPIs (and why it works better)

In PuMP there is a technique called Measure Design (an early version of it is explained here):

  1. It starts with a goal that has already been tested and improved for its measurability.
  2. Then we describe the evidence (not measures yet) we’d observe if the goal was happening in the real world.
  3. Then we convert that evidence into a list of potential measures (that satisfy the definition of what a measure really is and follow the recipe for writing good measures).
  4. We go on to evaluate the relevance and feasibility of each of those potential measures.
  5. The highest scores of relevance and feasibility indicate our best measures; the ones worth implementing.

These are deliberate steps that use logic to find the best KPI or performance measure for a goal. And it works every time. It works because:

  • Measure Design gives a logical process to select KPIs, whereas brainstorming is more random and unstructured.
  • Measure Design is collaborative in a focused way, and allows for appropriate contributions from everyone, at appropriate times in the process, which builds a lot of buy-in very early.
  • Measure Design is deliberate in shortlisting KPIs to choose the best evidence of the goal, rather than being a popularity contest based on personal agendas.
  • Measure Design doesn’t waste any time – it takes about 30 minutes to design a KPI for a goal, and with a half-day Measure Gallery to engage the wider group of stakeholders, the KPI is virtually always ready to be implemented right away.

It’s very common, at the end of the Measure Design session, for at least one person in the team to say out loud: “I’m actually excited about this measure!” The buy-in, clarity, and energy to bring their new measures to life is palpable. Brainstorming can’t ever achieve this depth of meaningfulness and engagement in our measures, so quickly. And that’s why it wastes so much more time than we’re aware.

Brainstorming can’t ever achieve the depth of meaningfulness and engagement in KPIs as quickly and easily as PuMP’s Measure Design technique.
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Which of your organisation’s teams currently can’t figure out how they link to the strategy? Share this in the comments on the blog, and we can explore how they can focus instead on their impact in the business model.

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