Why Would Anyone Buy 36,000 KPIs?

by Stacey Barr |

There is an ever-increasing supply of KPI libraries and lists available for sale. And they are HUGE. The collections are in the tens of thousands in general and in the hundreds and thousands for specific industries. They are meeting a trending demand in the market, but no one seems to realise the incorrect assumptions this trend is operating on.


Assumption 1: It’s quicker to bolt on KPIs than to design them.

That’s the delicious promise of spending a few bucks and instantly downloading a bunch of KPIs to pick from. Just search for your industry, your function, your activity and choose from the KPIs that are filtered out for you. But before long, you’ll discover that much more work is needed in getting the buy-in from people who the success of that KPI will depend on: the users, the data owners, and the process owners.

Assumption 2: It’s easy to choose the few KPIs that matter, from the many.

Even when you can shortlist the off-the-shelf KPIs with industry and function keywords, you still have to decide which of the dozens or hundreds that are filtered for you are right for you, now. You’re not going to adopt them all. But too often people will choose based on data availability, or what will be most popular. They won’t be meaningful KPIs. You need some kind of logic to decide which matter most, right now, based on the organisation’s strategy.

Assumption 3: It’s obvious how to implement the KPIs.

What’s usually included in KPI libraries and lists is a name, perhaps a description, and sometimes a formula. But you’re going to need so much more than that to bring any of these off-the-shelf KPIs to life. You’ll need to decide for yourself how the KPI works in your context. You’ll have to fine tune the formula, set boundaries, write definitions of terms, choose exactly which data, nominate owners, and decide which reports the KPI belongs in, based on the goal it’s monitoring.

This assumption is incorrect because where these KPIs come from is more like fishing with a giant mega-trawler net than with lines with specialised bait. They are a stock-take of what’s already out there. But we know that most people struggle to find meaningful measures, and these KPIs come from ‘most people’.

Assumption 5: The KPIs available are complete.

Most of the KPIs in these libraries and lists are very operational, easy-to-count things. Few are strategic in nature, or appropriate for those very important but hard to measure intangible results. There will be measures or KPIs that you really need, but you won’t find them on the shelf, because no-one else has thought of them yet.

Are KPI libraries and lists a lost cause?

These off-the-shelf KPIs are still useful, but only at the right step in the measurement process and only to a point.

Before using them, you have to know the goals or objectives that need to be measured, you have to understand the specific meaning of these goals, you have to know the evidence that would convince you these goals were really happening. And even then, you would use the off-the-shelf KPIs as potential measures that need to be evaluated for their strength as evidence of your goals, and for their feasibility of implementation in your organisational context.


Have you used off-the-shelf KPIs? How did it work out? What tips can you share from your experience?


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  1. Ib says:

    it is harder to get team buy-in when quick fix solutions such as these are adopted.

    when a kpi is DEVELOPED and agreed among the execution team, it is much easier to hold them ACCOUNTABLE for the outcomes.

    performance measures need to be etched in the DNA of the strategy right FRom the onset

  2. Tom G says:

    There have been times when i have referred to KPI libraries and pulled out best practice KPIS and also times when teams pulled from books of best practice. The issue i find though is that there is no understanding of what od do with the kpi even if like the blind squirrel you do find a good acorn. if the team has a good understanding of STATISTICS and a process mindset, they naturally think of THINGS they want to measure and have a tendency to put in good monitoring tools. If this bridge has not been crossed, the numbers are typically used to evaluate people’s performance.

    i encourage people in the discussion to always ask, “what question will that kpi answer” and “what does it mean if it goes up, down, stays the same – what will we do.’ This opens the door to getting people to talk about new kpis instead of fixing on the usual suspects.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Tom, your suggestion about asking people the question the KPI will answer and how they will respond to its signals is a great tool to use after selecting KPIs in this way. That said, it would be great to have this thinking up front in the KPI selection process, and not in hindsight!

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