Reaching Your Goals Through Triangulating Measures

November 12, 2013 by Stacey Barr

Triangulation is a method of locating a point using information about its relationship to two or three known points. It’s applied in social sciences by using two or more methods to check the results of a study. Applying this concept to performance management, we can use multiple measures to triangulate our goals, lessening the likelihood of getting lost and wasting time in pursuing them. Here’s how…

For any performance result that we want to achieve, we need evidence to convince us of the degree to which it actually is being achieved.

That evidence is the feedback we need to know if how we’re pursuing that result is working; if it’s taking us closer to it with the least amount of effort and time.

If we rely just on one piece of evidence, we increase our risk of being misinformed and we increase the chance that people will argue about the measure’s relevance or integrity. You know it, I know it, we all know it: measures are never a perfect representation of reality. They offer only one perspective, and almost always it’s at best a good approximation of that perspective.

One of the ways to mitigate the risks of measures that misinform or fail to convince, is to stop relying on single measures. Instead, and where it’s sensible to do so, we can use several measures that evidence our result, to get a fuller picture. [Note: this is NOT an excuse to measure too much!]

And it’s important to choose a selection of measures that gives us different perspectives on our result. These different perspectives might come from:

Imagine, for example, you’re wanting to achieve a performance result of ‘customer orders are delivered quickly’. Choosing three measures from the following selection would give you a more complete view of the whole picture than any one of them could individually:

  1. Average customer satisfaction with speed of delivery
  2. Average days per delivery
  3. Median days for deliveries
  4. Interquartile range of days for deliveries
  5. Total days late as a percentage of total delivery days
  6. Percentage of deliveries within promised time
  7. Percentage of deliveries within customer expected time
  8. Number of customer complaints about late deliveries
  9. Percentage of customers inconvenienced by late deliveries
  10. Average days late for the 10% latest deliveries
  11. Percentage of enroute deliveries behind schedule
  12. Number of days/hours since last late delivery

This is what triangulation is about: using three or four measures to give you more convincing and complete evidence of how much a performance result is being achieved.

This post was inspired by Martin Klubeck’s idea about triangulation, in his book Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION:

Do you have any performance results that are monitored with only a single measure? Share them on the Measure Up blog and we’ll collaborate to suggest ideas for triangulating them with complementary companion measures.

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  1. I love this post (and yes, I am a little biased). One of the greatest joys for me has been finding Stacey because I truly believe we are kindred spirits when it comes to metrics. One of my curiosities has been how PuMP and most of Stacey’s advice would differ from the help I’ve been providing and I think her newsletter hit on it. While my focus has been (and continues to be) on the person newly introduced to improvement through measures, much of what Stacey brings is for those deep in the process. This distinction resonates easily and fully.

    So to this post…I love the list of possible measures to pull from. I never thought of providing a list (we usually develop one together), and I really like this step – one in which you can enlist others in the same field. I usually insist that we have at least three, and no more than necessary (it may be four, five, or more). Once we have candidates, we use factors like:

    1. Availability of the measures
    a. does it cost?
    b. is it readily available?
    c. can it be gathered with minimal human interaction/involvement?
    2. Comprehensiveness (when you look at these measures together, does it tell the complete story – or as close as you can get)?
    3. Alignment – always checking back with your desired “performance results.” You’d be surprised how many potential measures are identified which actually don’t align.

    And Stacey I think your said it very clearly (I just like stressing it), that you can also “triangulate” on the source, the method of collection, and even the method of analysis.

    I’m very excited to see what others think…
    Marty

  2. cyril says:

    a Good article. Triangle is an great tool, to present and populate anything to get a logic. I agree with your article.

  3. Stacey, I love the logic behind having multiple measures to measure one objective to renbder the measurement complete and correct (as best possible). Thank you for bringing this to the table.

    If I may ask some help with a particular measure that is alluding me – I want to associate employee retention with cost per candidate i.e., I want to measure recruiting cost per candidate to demonstrate how important it is to retain your existing talent and hence save on recruitment costs. Any thoughts on how this can be achieved meaningfully and in a simple straightforward way? What are the different measures that can help articulate this objective? Thanks.

  4. Favor says:

    Thanks for this helpful article Stacey. Its been difficult for me to make my colleagues see the importance of data triangulation. After reading your article i am sure i will give another convincing push for it.

    Currently i am supporting a commodity distribution at the community level. Number of beneficiaries is reported by those distributing. Please can you just throw some light on ow i can rightly triangulate these data? (ideas on different sources will be appreciated).
    Thanks

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Favor, a very important first step before considering the right measures (and triangulating them) is to have a clear performance result. What is a result that would indicate success of the commodity distribution? Measuring just the number of beneficiaries is measuring the activity level, not necessarily the result the activity is supposed to achieve.

      If you can describe a performance result I’d be happy to provide some examples of triangulating measures for it.

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