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TLS Continuum Part 49: To measure or not to measure that is the question

Every day in every organization management from the boardroom to the C-Suite is demanding that we produce metrics to determine how the organization is functioning. The common demand is that we measure something. In his book Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, Dr, Mikel Harry tells us that a) we won’t know until me measure; b) we don’t measure what we don’t value and c) we don’t value what we don’t measure. Obviously there is value to measurement. There is value in metrics. The question is what do we measure.

In our tip of the week we suggested that using metrics for the sake of using metrics could ruin your business. This view comes from the perspective that there are wide array of metrics that can be used to measure the organizational operations. The picture becomes somewhat clouded when we introduce the push to big data. Big data relies on huge amounts of data to get to an end point. But it is concentrated on determining when something may occur. The metrics are designed to answer how to determine whether a certain event will take place. The problem arises if that metric does not serve the purpose you need. If you use that data metric to determine your response and the metric is the wrong one, the organization as a whole can suffer.

The real question is whether those metrics are the right ones for the question at hand. You may not want to measure factory output when you are concerned with rate of FMLA leave. You may not want to use occurrence metrics when you need evidence-based metrics for why something is happening. The website for the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge (TCBOK) suggests you cannot control what you can’t measure, so measure what you want to control.

The question becomes how do we choose the right metric for the situation we are trying to control? Consider these criteria from TCBOK:

  1. Consider whether the metric is worth obtaining – Your goal is to run your organization both effectively and efficiently. You need to begin the selection process by determining whether the selection of a particular operational metric is in alignment with that goal. If it takes you extended period of times to develop the metric it may not be the right metric for the situation.
  2. Direct measurements are easier to obtain – I mentioned above that you should measure what you can control. It makes your job easier if you develop metrics that are under your direct control.
  3. Prefer objective metrics – If we use metrics that are based in presented evidence they are easier to defend then ones that introduce the potential for the bias of the person preparing the metrics.
  4. Record and retain the raw data – The raw data may come in handy at a later point and may strew the metrics in another situation. So record the data and retain it for future use.
  5. Be sure your metrics are in alignment with your organizational goals – Forget the view that you have to measure everything. Take the goals of the organization and create the metrics that respond to those goals. Consider those metrics that have a direct bearing on the end view not any metric for any situation.
  6. Make sure that the data for your metric development comes from wide sources – Each and every one of your stakeholders can provide vital data to your metric development. To ensure that you are developing the best possible metrics use their resources when it is appropriate.
  7. Do not rule out existing published metrics – In many cases you do not have to reinvent the wheel. There maybe similar organizations that have already developed the very metrics you need. Do not be afraid to utilize them.

The use of metrics is a critical part of running our business enterprises. But just as in real life we can often make the wrong choices. The difficulty here is that if we choose the wrong metrics for the organization the end results may be hazardous to the health of the organization. If we choose the wrong metric for the situation the real possibility is that we will come to the wrong ultimate decisions. If we base our goals, vision, and mission off these wrong data points we can lead the organization in a direction that will harm the organization. Do not be afraid to use metrics. Do not be afraid to measure the operational areas of your organization. Just be sure to use the right metric, in the right place, at the right time for the right reason. Measure your organization founded in good data instead of data used because someone says you have to measure something.

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