Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results Part 28

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You should have already formed your questions first and then sought out the answers via existing research or standards. Of course, if you're struggling with the questions, reviewing existing research data may help you, or then again, it may lead you deeper into the woods. The chief risk is that you may settle for what is available rather than what you actually need. The following are a few precautions to consider when using others' research: Research data may not match your needs exactly. As my boss said, you may have apples-to-apples, but yours might be a Red Delicious while mine is a Granny Smith. While you may use others' data to compare, you have to note where it doesn't match your situation.

It's too easy to skip the question identification phase when you have reams of data to choose from. You end up just building pictures from what's available instead of determining the proper questions.

Worse than skipping the question altogether, when you have research results, you may be driven to creating questions to fit the answers in the metrics. This makes it nearly impossible to convince management to re-evaluate their needs.

Research data are still merely indicators; they are not truth. What happened to similar inst.i.tutions doesn't mean the same will happen to your organization. (I was watching the NBA playoffs and the announcers were discussing one of the many statistics culled from researchers. "Teams that have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series have lost the series over 80% of the time." While this may be accurate, it doesn't mean that this particular team with two losses stands an 80% chance of losing this series.) Research is not cheap. While technology makes the collection of data much easier than in the past, it's still costly. The monitoring software and hardware may be expensive. The use of manpower to a.n.a.lyze and report the data is always expensive.

While I strongly advise against conducting exploratory research, I fully support your taking every advantage of those who have the time, resources, and will to do so.


Here are some points worth highlighting: Don't neglect defining your questions because someone can provide you with ready-made answers. Don't let existing research cloud your issues and keep you from asking the right questions. It's tempting to use others' research and not do the upfront work of determining your needs.

Don't let existing research push you in a direction that allows comparison at the expense of having meaningful data for your situation.

Don't let others dictate your metrics with the ambiguous "interesting." Learn to say "no" to the "I think it would be interesting..." requests.

Don't rely on others to provide your questions-only you truly know your needs.

Don't give more weight to aggregate data than to your own metrics.

You may have noticed that the admonitions above all stem from the core methodology for developing metrics-first identify the root question. The biggest issue with non-directed research may be the lack of a meaningful question. If the research is being conducted by an independent ent.i.ty, the question is usually generic, and therefore, meaningless for most.

An example would be research done on the high-school graduation rate for children from one-parent families. This "interesting" measure can garnish a decent grant from our government, but how useful is the information to your local high school? Besides the ability to say that high school X has a better graduation rate for their single-parented population than high school Y, how useful is this data? If the data shows that fewer children from single-parent homes graduate than those from two-parent homes, will the schools focus differently on those children because they are more at risk? It may be useful data for debates against single-parent child-rearing or for more support for these families. The bottom line is that while the research is interesting and may be worthy of funding, it is not highly useful for the local school. It has uses, but not for where the "rubber meets the road" in education.

At least the example given involves research for a purpose, albeit a vague one. The other type of research, which your organization is more likely to engage in, is much more problematic. The research conducted by your organization not only falls prey to the same lack of a meaningful question (usually it's conducted without forethought or planning but simply because someone thought it would be interesting), but wastes your resources! So, unless you have limitless resources (including time), I highly recommend against collecting, a.n.a.lyzing, or reporting any data that does not answer a specific and meaningful question.


Research has great potential for helping us find answers. The trick is to remember that the research conducted by third parties will rarely provide the direct (or full) answer to your questions. You definitely should leverage the work of others, but only after you've clearly defined your question.

The other key point to remember is that you likely don't have the resources to conduct non-directed research (leave it to those who receive grants for such things or are in the business of research). This may seem easy, but you may find yourself falling into the research trap when you are tasked to find "interesting" data. Beware these veiled research a.s.signments.

You may also find yourself unwittingly but voluntarily conducting non-directed research. Go back to the beginning (my favorite place to start) and identify the root need. With the root question in hand, design your metric with the end in mind. Avoid the research trap and use your time wisely.

Embracing Your Organization's Uniqueness.

The prince didn't know how else to explain it. It was love at first sight. She had captivated his whole being. And then she slipped away, leaving behind only her gla.s.s shoe.

"I must find her," said the prince. "She is the one. With her by my side I can do anything, be anyone."

"But sire," responded the chancellor, "She's just a commoner. How can she alone make you more than you are?"

"I can't explain it, but I know it will happen. She will make me better."

So, the prince sent the king's chancellor to scour the countryside for the mystery girl who stole his heart. The chancellor went from house to house and had each female of marrying age try on the gla.s.s shoe.

And it fit every girl's foot.

The chancellor was lost at what to do. So, he did what his father always told him, "When in doubt, follow orders." He brought each and every maiden back to the castle.

"Sire," he said, "I've brought you the women who fit the shoe."

"Women?" The prince looked at him with widened eyes.

"Yes, sire."

"How many?"

"All of them."

"Very humorous," said the prince. "How many are all of them?"

"No, sire. I don't jest. I brought all of them. All the eligible maidens in the kingdom fit into the shoe."

"How is that possible?"

The chancellor chose his words carefully. "I believe it's called a one-size-fits-all."

"How is it of any use, then?" wondered the prince.

"Well, it's the only type of shoe that we have."

"True," said the prince.

So the Prince became depressed and eventually banned all one-size-fits-all apparel in the kingdom. This made the tailors in the kingdom quite happy, but the manufacturing unions organized a revolution. They retooled shoes, socks, and T-shirts to make weapons. They easily overthrew the monarchy and established a free and open market.

While the prince learned that a one-size-fits-all tool for measuring something may not be meaningful, there are still many who seek this out. They want the one-size-fits-all metric. If you've followed along up to this point, you should realize that the only way someone else's metric will be meaningful to you is if you both have the same root question. Even then, for the data, measures, or information to be meaningful, you need to have defined the components the same way.

The only way someone else's metrics will work for you is if you have the same root question.

There is nothing wrong with your organization being unique. Organizations, like people, should embrace their uniqueness instead of trying to make everything a one-size-fits-all endeavor. This penchant for finding a single solution for problems actually causes more issues than it resolves. If you are designing a product like a new energy-saving lightbulb, you may well want it to fit most (if not all) lamps. But an organization is a complex living organism, and the problems it needs answered will be as unique as the problems each of us face in our lives.

Forcing a "one-size-fits-all" solution to your problems actually causes more issues than it resolves.

You may argue that we actually aren't unique and that we are alike in more ways than we are different. You may argue that people, and therefore organizations, which are made up of people, have problems that are more alike than different. While there are enough variables to ensure our issues are not identical, the root causes, and the root questions, are very common.

And I'd have to agree.

Unfortunately, this commonality doesn't help. It actually causes us to head off in wrong directions.

When you start a metrics program, you will be challenged by many to "not re-create the wheel." You'll be encouraged to visit other organizations like your own, research information on the web, and find existing successful examples to follow. You will be expected to leverage the work of others. You will be expected to produce quickly since you won't have to start from scratch.

This causes problems because this expectation-that you can use other organizations' metrics-makes finding your organization's root questions much more difficult. It makes sense. If there were actually one-size-fits-all metrics, or at least existing metrics that you could just "borrow," then You could use someone else's root questions and You wouldn't need to elicit requirements or gather inputs No focus groups No interviews No questionnaires You wouldn't need to break the root question down into its components to ensure understanding and that you've reached a true root need No "five whys"

No facilitation No consulting You could use existing metric development plans. Actually, you wouldn't need a development plan because you wouldn't have to develop any metrics. You would just use ones already created and doc.u.mented by someone else.

You wouldn't need to bother leadership, management, or the workforce to develop your metrics program.

Of course, you will need to have the same collection, a.n.a.lysis, and reporting tools. You will also have to have the same (exact) processes and procedures. You will also have to provide/deliver the same services and products. You will have to have the same environmental factors affecting your organization. This would be, of course, virtually impossible.

Your organization is unique. You are unique. You have to embrace your uniqueness to be successful.

You have to embrace your uniqueness to be successful.

I don't mean that you can't benefit from the work of others. But when leadership tasks you to find "benchmarks" and to research what your peers/ compet.i.tors are doing-it's not to become wiser. It's to save time and money. It's to avoid the hard work required to develop a metrics program.

There are no shortcuts-that work.

There are tons of ways to get things done much faster. You can find many shortcuts. You can skip many of the steps I've offered. You can (and likely will) fall off that narrow ledge you've been crawling on because of the shortcut.

In the center (socially, if not geographically) of the university where I work, there is a student center with four different eateries. It would be ludicrous for the managers of these to ignore what makes each unique. The reason four different food providers can thrive in the same building (go to your nearest mall) is mostly because of their differences, not the things they have in common.

Your organization has the chance to be exceptional because of the things that make it unique, not the things that it has in common with others. These unique factors are critical to your success. They can be strengths or weaknesses. The first step is to embrace these unique factors. They will not only affect your success, but they will also be a major player in your metrics program.

Questions Simplified.

When looking at a metrics program (besides using the tools I offered in the development plan), you must answer five simple questions: Why, What, When, Who, and How.


Why are you doing metrics? Why are you doing a specific metric?

"Why" leads us to the root question. Your whys might be, and should be, unique. Others won't have the same needs you do. Unless another organization is in the same business, in the same market, and battling the same challenges, chances are, while your whys may be similar, they won't be the same.


What are you doing? What are your goals? What are you measuring?

If you are lucky enough to actually find another organization that has the same "whys," you may still decide to handle them differently. If you and a peer have the same problems, how will you decide to solve those issues? Will you wait and do whatever your peer does? Or will you want to create your own solutions? Even looking at two businesses that are very much alike-McDonalds and Burger King-chances are you will find more differences than you could imagine. And I don't mean in their recipes. They will have different values, processes, procedures, and policies. They have different solutions for problems, even if they share the same issues.


When are you going to implement the change? When are you hoping to achieve the goal?

When are you going to measure? The first of the month? The first workday of the week? In the morning, afternoon, or evening?

At what frequency will you collect, a.n.a.lyze, and report your metrics? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Are you on a fiscal, annual, or academic calendar?

"When" is more than a way to define the scope of your efforts. It helps you determine deadlines and focus your efforts. It also gives you insights to how the workload and processes will change when you implement a program.


Who will lead the effort? Who will a.s.sist? Who will be involved? Who will collect the data? Who will compile the measures? Who will a.n.a.lyze the information? Who will create the metric? Who will report the metric and to whom? Who will explain the anomalies? Who will get the credit? Who will take the blame? Who owns the program? Who will have access and who won't? Who is going to pay for the work?

"Who ..." is a critical question to ask if you actually want to get anything done. You have to know who the customer is, who the providers are, and who will use the metrics.

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Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results Part 28 summary

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