Results Before Measures

by Stacey Barr

Does this sound back-to-front to you? It’s not. Knowing your results before you look for measures is the only way to get the measures you need.

Lone sailboat on the ocean representing trying to navigate without a map. KPIs. Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/francescoch

One of my readers recently shared this with me:

“I recently spoke to someone who had spent months of their time analysing their organisation’s customer data for interesting trends and measures. Their report contained nothing that staff didn’t already know. Not only that, the findings were so general that, even though somewhat interesting, were not useful to do anything with.”

That’s a classic symptom of focusing on data and measures before thinking about the results that we need to know more about. And as my reader points out, the only reason we need any kind of an analysis of data is to guide our action to improve those results.

If the idea that results come before measures is confusing to you or your colleagues, here’s something to be aware of: the word ‘results’ can mean one of two things when it comes to performance. Some talk about the results of their measures, such as an increase or decrease in performance. But when I talk about results, I mean the impact or outcome we want to create, and which our measures give evidence of.

We need to be clear about our results – the outcomes or impacts we want – before we can know what measures, what data and what analyses will be useful.

“Results before measures” is one of the mantras of the PuMP methodology:

“So, what should our measures be?” Wrong question. The right question is “So, what results are important for us to achieve?” Then you should ask “How will we recognise those results happening?”, and thusly “What are some sensible ways to measure those results?” — me, from here.

Every month I have lots of new readers asking me for measures, without any information about the results they want. These are from April 2021 alone, each followed by a sample of questions I might ask the reader, to get closer to the result:

  • How do you determine the right performance measure or KPI to meet expectations?
    — Whose expectations, about what, and which expectations matter most?
  • How do you measure infrastructure assets performance?
    How should infrastructure assets perform? What aspects of infrastructure assets are not good enough?
  • What are the measures of outcomes of public policy reform?
    What are the outcomes of public policy reform that matter? Who is impacted by the policy reform and what do they need or care most about?
  • What are the metrics to use in construction projects?
    What about construction projects needs to go really well, but currently isn’t? What do your project stakeholders complain about most?
  • How do you measure data quality?
    What does data quality mean to you? Can you describe good data quality compared to bad data quality?
  • How do I measure team performance of a product management team?
    What are the promises that the product management team make to their customers and other stakeholders? Which promises do they struggle to fulfill?
  • What are measures for the quality of leadership delivered by my subordinate supervisors?
    What kind of leadership does your organisation need? What is your culture struggling most with? Which leadership behaviours are most important, given that context?
  • Do you have some KPIs for a software development department?
    In your organisation, what is the differentiating quality of your software compared to competitors? What do the software users most complain about when using the software the department develops?

If you’re struggling to find meaningful measures, it’s almost certain that you don’t have an understanding of your result yet. Or you don’t have a specific enough understanding of the result. Get that first. Trying to find the measures before you have clear results is like trying to navigate before you have a map.

Try and notice when people ask questions like these:

  • “How do you measure THING?”
  • “What should our measures be?”
  • “Do you have some metrics for THING?”
  • “How are other organisations measuring THING?”
  • “Where can we find a list of measures for THING?”

The only meaningful answer to offer is “What results are you trying to improve?”

Searching for KPIs before you are clear about the result you need to measure is like trying to navigate without a map.

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  1. Kirsty Wright says:

    Excellent post. Really helps thunkikg on preparing step 2 for pump pilot. Once this absolutely fundamental shift occurs inthinkig, the rest flows. Its the use of “results” in the wrong place which kills this thinking procsee

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