By admin, March 12, 2008 4:45 pm

I often preach to clients that if you aren't measuring that you are doing something, and can't prove it from the numbers, that you aren't actually doing it; you're just saying you are. That's the lead in to a broad discussion of the importance of collecting, reviewing, and using standard metrics to gauge both project and operational performance.

This post from Ed Yourdon regarding the difficulties that politics introduce into the metrics process contains a figure that calls all that effort into question: "…only about 10% of newly-initiated metrics programs survive more than 18 months" according to Yourdon. The rest of his post compiles a list of political reasons why metrics processes are often scuttled (either formally, by management, or informally, by non-compliant staff). It's a good list to review in any event as it says quite a lot about how metrics are mis-used or abused, which is something to be avoided even if you are actually able to collect them reliably.

I think the key to the terrible success ratio lies in the phrase itself, though… "metrics programs." If you have to call it a program, then it may well be something better strangled in the cradle than left to straggle wheezing to adult-hood. The best metrics are those you don't need a "program" to gather. I envision a lot of paper when I hear that phrase, probably poorly photo-copied forms that everyone is expected to fill out with a lot of questions based on a 1 to 10 scale. Circle the one which best represents your experience.

If not entirely meaningless, those sorts of metrics are at least significantly questionable. Better are the ones that you don't have to pester people for and those which aren't the least bit subjective; don't ask people how often they use the helpdesk, use helpdesk software that can tell you. Don't ask how long it took to complete a business process: measure it in the software system that handles it. You might do some surveys from time to time to gauge perception, but the real metrics that you rely on to guide the business need to come automatically and immediately from the business systems themselves.

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