(I published this article back in 2013, but I still believe that it can bring value to many consultants.)
How’s the product or initiative coming along?
I’m sure you’ve heard this question more than once in your life, and it’s normal for people to have the desire to know how the product or initiative is progressing and how long it will take you to finish. Otherwise, everyone would be in an undesirable state of chaos, something I’ve seen on several occasions.
“What is not defined cannot be measured. What is not measured, cannot be improved. What is not improved, is always degraded.
William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)
I have been involved with many projects or initiatives in which people measured and performed metrics on request, without understanding how complex human beings are when it comes to measuring intangibles.
People often understand what they want to measure only from a single perspective.
Sometimes metrics are created without informing workers that the metrics exist or why they are needed. This can erode the confidence of employees and teams.
If you’ve been using the Scrum framework for a long time, you may have seen the Burndown chart, which shows progress.
While this chart may be useful, other areas must be measured to create a healthy organization where people have the desire to learn and improve.
I recommend ten rules to help your initiative and company be more successful:
Rule 1: The people who do the work are the ones who know most about where they are.
In traditional methodologies, the project manager tries to “explain” the status of the project or initiative based on his/her experience. This person has the complete vision of the product. In the Agile mindset -a rule inherited from the Lean techniques- indicates that the people doing the work are the ones who really know where they are standing.
This assumes that the people involved are given the power, vision, and context to understand and change whatever is being done. This helps put aside the process myopia seen in traditional methodologies. A classic example of process myopia is the Ford assembly line, where each employee knows the task to be done but not the final outcome.
Rule 2: Always measure results with individuals in mind.
When measurements are taken, people must understand the values and agree with the mechanisms. Otherwise, the final data will be directed toward a subjective result.
Values and mechanisms should be visible and understood by all members of the initiative.
Rule 3. Offer freedom of actions.
Once values are understood by the people doing the work, these people should be given complete freedom to take the actions needed to reach the goal.
This implies not carrying out deliberate actions that passively or actively force employees to adjust ways of measuring or interpreting data to the outcome or goal expected by the rest of the company.
Have in mind that external decisions try to change behaviors, while internal decisions reinforce team growth.
Rule 4. Never use metrics as a method of pressure or to punish people.
Metrics should not be used to force people to produce more. They should be used so that members can learn and look for new alternatives to achieve the desired goal.
Rule 5. Use convenient metrics.
Convenient metrics are those that are balanced and can be understood by different members of the team. This is the opposite of complex metrics, or those that focus only on critical parts.
Rule 6. Focus on the shared final goal.
In a football match, the objective may be to win, but if we look only at the metric of goals scored per player, then we will automatically want to increase it. This results in players stealing the ball from their teammates to score a goal.
This will increase the index but not the actual performance of the team.
The focus should be on the final or shared goal and the flow required to achieve it in a way that does not degrade the health of the team.
Rule 7. Keep the metric simple.
You don’t need more than three or four metrics to analyze the actual performance of an initiative or product. More will lead to confusion.
The metric should never be a tool to demonstrate how smart a group of the company is. Rather, it should show what is happening in a simple way and with simple values. It should be easy to manage and help visualize processes and reduce complexity.
Rule 8. Discuss the metrics.
The company should always proactively and positively encourage its employees to discuss and criticize existing metrics in a transparent way, without penalizing those actions. In organizations where trust is compromised, this can be a challenge.
Rule 9. Make sure that the premises are well established.
Creating a report with false or erroneous premises will result in exact values but not in real value.
For example, measuring productivity based on lines of code written by a developer (rather than measuring quality) or the number of calls to a call center can result in accurate data but not in useful information.
You should always be critical of the final goal you want to achieve and how the measurements align with it.
In short, a report (whatever it is) should comply with what I call FDF:
F — Forecast
Help people to predict as accurately as possible the near future (what will be finished and when).
D — Diagnose
Help people find out where the problem is and its possible solutions.
F — Feedback
Help provide positive feedback to improve the processes of the team or company.
Improving the way you measure should help you understand the internal interactions between processes and people involved in the creation and development of a product. This makes it possible to make better decisions and get closer to the real goal.
Rule 10. Reach a sustainable balance.
You must consider and fully balance multiple factors. This is where the balanced scorecard might help you.
The scorecard focuses on four areas, which should be observed and considered with the same weight. Created by Larry Maccherone, the scorecard makes it possible to analyze several areas. This ensures that none of these is under -or overvalued at the expense of another. The original framework was created for products, but it can also be adapted for organizational change.
The top left focuses on measuring speed (measuring the pace of building a product from conception to cash, making a change in a department, etc.). On the bottom right is an indication of whether things are being done right (according to quality, what the client or employees expect, etc.).
In the top-right box is predictability (having a constant speed that allows you to predict the outcomes and their time without negatively impacting employees, teams, or organizational health).
Finally, “Keep doing it” refers to those habits, procedures, or outcomes that need to be magnified to succeed.
When you create measurements, you should consider these 10 recommendations.
If you want to learn advanced techniques for improving your teams, I encourage you to read my latest book, Leading Exponential Change.
Thanks for listening,