Measure data that incentivizes behavior that moves you towards your goals.

Measure data that incentivizes behavior that moves you towards your goals.

The are three basic goals for measurement. The first goal is to drive change in an organization. The second goal is to use measurement as an enforcement tool. And the third is to provide data for other processes or decisions (estimation, for example).  The third of these goals is the most mundane and is the easiest to implement, therefore is where metrics implementations start.

Metrics programs that are part of a goal to drive change are considered of having reached the pinnacle of metrics program value (goal one). Metrics programs reach this level when they participate in identifying opportunities to make changes by data analysis.  Sifting through data, identifying potential changes and using measurement to guide change is a strategic  for organizations that want to evolve toward higher levels of capability. Unfortunately, most metrics programs do not have the time to follow this evolutionary approach. Organizations find it difficult to achieve the constancy of purpose required to gather the data and wait for the amount of data to reach the threshold needed for solid statistical analysis and data mining.  A second approach is to follow a more aggressive strategy. The intent of this approach is to go looking for areas or groups in pain.  When you identify a group in pain, use measures and metrics to help them find and prove the change that would remove their pain.  This is a opportunistic approach to measurement that links measurement with process improvement to create valuable change.

The second goal, measurement as an enforcement mechanism, is a bad idea.  Avoid being forced into this role.  Making measurement personnel into process police will politicize measurement and requires tons of effort for little value.  This usually happens in organizations where line management is spread too thin to actively manage people and processes. Measures are often used to answer the questions:

  • Are changes being adopted?
  • Are changes providing the expected rate of return?
  • Who is playing, and who is not?

Metrics programs spend the majority of their time and effort supporting the gathering and supporting other processes and decisions (the third goal). While important, the support role is the least obvious to the decision making portions of an organization. Metrics groups that only service the data needs of other groups in the organization are apt to be viewed as overhead, not as strategic assets.  The question will always be asked whether measurement over had can be cut therefore the measurement team will all be at risk.

Bottom Line:  Metrics programs deliver the most value when they are focused on finding and actively participating in delivering change within organizations.  When metrics programs are the measurement arm of the process police or just supporting other, more valued teams (like estimators) they can easily be branded as overhead.  All metrics organizations need to work on refocusing their efforts at getting involved in change, while supporting other process.  Being branded as overhead is dangerous for your career.