The six C's of effective metrics

Useful business metrics follow the six-C formula, beginning with connection and ending with communication

"It's the Christmas season!" an exasperated correspondent complained following my two recent pieces on the subject of metrics. "Get in a good mood! Enough about how to do metrics wrong! Tell us how to do them right!"

So here's a gift from me to you: An excerpt on metrics from "Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology," edited for length. Happy Whateveryoucelebrate! -- Bob

[ Get Bob Lewis's continuing IT management wisdom in his Advice Line blog and newsletter. | Find out why running IT as a business is a train wreck waiting to happen. ]

Good metrics are connected, consistent, calibrated, complete, communicated, and current -- six C's. In order:

  • Connected: Good metrics are connected to important goals. In fact, they begin as important goals, stated in English.
  • Consistent: Consistent metrics always go in one direction when the situation improves and the other direction when it deteriorates. If good doesn't always point in one direction and bad in the other, your metric will drive organizational dysfunction. This, by the way, is the biggest problem with the TCO (total cost of ownership) measures so popular in the IT industry. TCO isn't consistent. Some of the actions you might take to reduce TCO do improve your situation (standardized configurations, for example), but others, such as eliminating training, make it worse.
  • Calibrated: Calibration means you get the same value in the same situation no matter who records it. It also means the data are free from sample bias and other quality problems. It means, that is, you can count on the numbers themselves (NPI -- honest!).
  • Complete: Anything you don't measure you don't get, so any useful system of measures must include all factors that are important to achieving the goal.
  • Communicated: The purpose of metrics is to drive behavior. If you don't communicate their purpose, they won't drive behavior.
  • Current: Goals change. Keep the old measures and you'll achieve your old goals, not your new ones.

The six C's are easily stated. Satisfying them is hard. If you're sure you want to go through with it, here's how.

Step No. 1: Define success

Be clear on how success looks and feels. If you're a trendy sort of leader, you might even capture your thinking in the form of a vision statement, mission statement, or stated strategic goal.

Just don't confuse the statements with what matters. Vision and mission statements are nothing. Understanding the vision and mission is everything.

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