One of the things over the last 8 or so years I have been a manager I have wrestled with has been Metrics. The old adage of "If you can measure it you can't manage it" has been thown around me as well.

Probably in the last two years I have gained what I consider an important aspect to how I deal with metrics and how I incorporate them in my business plans.


To me there are four reasons why you measure anything in your business:

1. Performance - Whether it is for your team or for an individual

2. Benchmarketing - So you compare your metrics with other metrics from your industry, and work our areas for continuous improvement

3. Financial - For budgeting and targets

4. Marketing - Both within your organisation, outside your organisation, and for self-promotion.


Viewing reporting and metrics through this window has helped me make sure I don't try and make one report to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them).  I end up with reports that are correctly tailored to their target audience.

Just thought I would share.



jcook's picture

Thanks for a useful suggestion and a Lord of The Rings reference! :)

- Jane

Sean McGinnis's picture

Great points.

I recently read a couple interesting books on business, and one of them included some advice about metrics and measurement that I find "precious" (couldn't help myself).

In "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job", Patrick Lencioni concludes there are three important steps to ensuring job satisfaction (I'm paraphrasing):

1.  Discover/define exactly how that job helps improve someone else's life.

2.  Define metrics that go at the heart of measuing how to do THAT THING better.

3.  Take an interest in your employees personally.

It's #2 that I find so interesting and applicable to this discussion.  I find we often measure the wrong things, or worse, simply measure things because we can or because we always have.  Ensuring you are measuring the right things in the right way is crucial.

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." - Albert Einstein



douglase's picture

That phrase of Einstein's is golden.

I firmly believe that just because you can measure something, doesn't mean you should.  I have seen quite a lot of people build a report and throw in metrics because they can.  Not because they add any value or help you make a decision.




US41's picture

 "Not everything that counts can be counted..."

...but a proxy of it can be counted, and often 70% is good enough for victory in the Marines even if a scientist is offended by the lack of precision.

Maybe others' metrics seem like they don't add value or help with decisions from your chair, Douglas, but what about the person producing them? It might help them in ways you don't know. One of the things I count is how many projects we close during the year. Being that we are an IT group, we do not initiate the projects - we receive them from the business. If the business requests lots of projects, we close lots of projects. If we receive few, we run leaner and close fewer. But counting the number of projects closed shows how much work we are doing, and I think seeing the results pile up throughout the year reminds me and others that things are getting done and 99% of everything going on in my department is successful.

Some measurements are effective in unexpected ways.


douglase's picture

I agree with you Rob.

But if you are making a report/metric that you have a use for, it's valuable.  I have seen far more reports/metrics where they are being done because it has always been done with no understanding as to why, or how they are useful.

If a DR can't tell my why a report is useful, I would ask them why they are doing it then and try to help them find a use (performance, benchmarking etc).  I don't tell them to stop doing it (unless I have to)

asteriskrntt1's picture

When I was younger, I worked in an Internet Help Desk.  Somehow, I became friends with the CEO and every so often, he would summon me to the corner office just to show me things.  One day, he was in his 18th month (or so)  on the job and called me in.

He throws me a report that must have been 100 pages and asks me, what is this?  I had no clue.  He said, this is a report my predecessor had commissioned to be delivered every Monday.  It is totally useless and I have told the team numerous times that I don't want it anymore, nor should they be working on it.  We have different metrics now and we need to measure those.  Somehow, they could not stop producing this report.

It took something like 8 months for the CEO to get his new report.  Some people have a hard time with change, and a harder time keeping up with the relevant metrics for their business unit.   I guess the moral of the story is that you can't assume everyone understands your business and you need some sort of process to review your metrics every so often.  Maybe a quarterly brain storm or something like that.



stephenbooth_uk's picture

About 9 years ago I was part of a team putting in a new IT system, kind of a CRM system but with added features and hooks into other systems, to replace half a dozen existing systems.  Once the core transactional system was in we looked at the reports that needed to be extracted from the system.  There was one report that was downright weird and had some fairly hairy logic behind it (it was basically reporting on number of calls answered in which minute of the hour broken down by categories, call length, gender of caller and a few other fields with various different summations).  Not only could we not see the point but we could see that it was going to take some serious developer time to develop. 

We queried if the report was necessary but were told it was because the person who recieved it was a strategic director.  As it happened I knew this strategic director, not very well but well enough that we said hello to each other if we passed in the corridor and sometimes discussed a TV show we both enjoyed.  Next time I saw him  asked him about this report, he looked blank, he'd never heard of it, but as we were near to his office he suggested I ask his PA.  I asked his PA and she did know about the report, every month it arrived and she immediately threw it away.  There was never any covering note or indication where it came from, she had tried to track where it was from but to no avail.  She asked that we get them to stop sending the report and even typed up a letter from the director instructing them to stop.

Armed with the letter, back in the department I tracked down why they were producing this report.  It turned out that 12 years previously the person then in that post had requested the report as a one off (no reason given but when a strategic director says jump the expected course of action is to go up until they say fall) but somewhere along the line the 'one off' part had been lost and ever since this report had been produced every month and sent via internal mail.  At no point did anyone think to question why this report was being produced.


douglase's picture

Thanks for sharing your stories guys.



ashdenver's picture

 There was a young woman who moved out into her own house. While living at home, she never cooked. Upon the move, she returned home to learn how to cook a few dishes. One of her favorite recipes was Pot Roast. So she asks her mother to show her how to cook one.

The mother begins to share her expertise with the daughter. She tells her to salt and pepper the meat well. To make sure the vegetables are all cut the same size. Just before the mom places the roast in the pan, she picks up a knife and cuts about a ¼ of an inch of roast from each end. Then she places the meat in the pan.
The daughter stops her mom. “Mom, I understand why we cut the vegetables the same size – that way they’ll cook uniformly. And I know the reason we salt and pepper the meat all over – and rather heavily, is so the whole roast will absorb the flavor of the seasonings. But why did you cut a little bit off each end of the roast before you placed it in the pan?”
“Because that’s what you do”, said the mom.
“But why?”, questioned the girl.
“Does it help it cook better?”
“Well, I do it this way, because that’s the way my Mom taught me,” said the mother. “But I’m not really sure why we cut the ends off. Next time we go to visit we’ll ask her.”
Several months later the family gathers at Grandma’s house for dinner. As Grandma prepares the meal the mother and daughter are in the kitchen with her.
The daughter asks her grandmother, “Grandma, you’re such a good cook, and I know you passed all your methods on to Mom, but I can’t figure out why we cut the ends off of the pot roast before we cook it."
The grandmother turned to her granddaughter and said, “What are you talking about? I don’t cut the ends off before I cook it.”
At this point the mother jumps into the conversation and says, “Yes you do! The time you showed me how to make pot roast, you started to put it in the pan, and then you put the roast back on the cutting board and cut about a 1/4 inch off each end of the roast. I’ve been doing it that way ever since”, she declared!
The grandmother stared at her daughter in amazement. “Every time you cook a pot roast you cut a ¼ inch off the ends? Every single time?”
“Yes!” She answered her mother. “Every - single - time, just like you showed me.”
“Honey, all I can say is you’ve been wasting a lot of good meat over the years. The only time I ever cut the ends off the roast is if it’s too big for the pan!”


Now, as a counter-point, assuming that the metrics are still relevant (we're still measuring apples and haven't switched to oranges), there could be a case of ignorance in reading the report and/or interpreting the metrics being reported. 

When I stepped into this role, my counterpart was producing what I can only describe as An Uber-Excel File - complete with massive amounts of formatting, at least a half-dozen different colors to code certain things, a document showing how-to-create the report covering four pages.  Per my counterpart's direction (guidance), I would dutifully send out the report - as I received it - to my team without explanation.  

(Silly me, I assumed that - since this report & process was in place prior to my arrival - my folks really should know what to do with the data in the report.)

After sending out the report a few times, I finally asked my folks "How do you use the report? What does it mean to you?"  Lo and behold, the report was so overwhelming (both the amonut of data and format in which it was laid out) that they didn't really do anything but look at the Bottom Line Number.  They weren't even understanding where the data was coming from or even how it got there, when it was updated, etc.  As such, they weren't using the color coding to their advantage to prioritize their workload and they hadn't been really doing their daily tasks correctly to ensure the report truly reflected correct data the way they thought it would or should.