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I was listening to my colleague and friend, Stacey Barr this week.  In her seminar, she was making it very clear that many make the mistake of using things that are really milestones or activities, when they are talking about measures.  She is right.  However, people are using them for a reason, and I want to explain why.

As Stacey quite rightly points out, these three examples are not measures, though each might have a measure associated with it:

  • “Project completed in June.”
    • This is not a measure: This is a milestone for that project.
    • Want a measure: “% of projects completed on time” is a measure of projects achieving their planned delivery dates.
  • “Training completed.”
    • This is not a measure. This is a project that has ended.  It is a statement of an expected temporary activity finishing that should result in an (undefined change)
    • Want a measure: Improvement in scores or capabilities of staff might measure  their skills or competency levels resulting from this training.
  • “Training underway”
    • It is not a measure.  This is perhaps a milestone, or simply a statement of an activity that is being carried out.  It sounds like an activity or task.
  • “Investigate reason for errors.  Improve quality process at earlier stages.”
    • This is not a measure.  It sounds like a corrective action to a measure that has gone awry.
    • Clearly there is somewhere else a measure of product quality that has shown up a deviation or exception.

Now these are not measures.  As the examples show, with a bit of work, the real measures underlying these statements could be worked out (I have just provided some possible examples here).

Milestones, activities and actions are still useful.

These statements are clearly not measures.  However, these sorts of statements are still used frequently.  They serve a purpose.  They are still useful.

In a proper full scorecard (or the table part of a balanced scorecard, as opposed to the strategy map or other pieces) you have extra columns alongside the objectives and measures associated with any projects, milestones, actions and responsibilities that are associated with the objective that is being measured.   These extra columns in the balanced scorecard table help you to manage the wider picture of performance management (and help you to avoid the problem caused by using non-measures as measures).

Have clear consistent language around performance management and measurement

The point is that you must not confuse them with measures.  If you do you fall into the trap of not actually measuring what you are trying to measure, you fall into the trap of not thinking through the richer landscape around performance.

In fact where these problems exist most, is where organisations or teams have a poor (impoverished) language to talk about performance management and performance measurement.   They lack quality of conversation: a quality of conversation about their process as well as the content of their activities.  Remember that when you design your strategic balanced scorecard or performance management approach, that these are not just technical tools, performance management is a social tool.

When you eliminate these from measurement, (but keep them to one side because they are still useful)  it allows you to develop appropriate and thoughtful measures that you can use to analyse what is going on.   This is important no matter what generation of strategic balanced scorecard you are developing.

So, as Stacey reminded me in  her session, and I teach to my clients:

  1. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the language of performance management.  be clear that these are social tools, not just technical tools.
  2. Be absolutely clear whether you are dealing with measures, milestones, activities or anything else.
  3. Be clear what you are trying to achieve, the objective, before you start to think about measures.
  4. Develop well-defined and clear measures that allow you to track performance and trends.
  5. Recognise the difference between indicators and measuresRefine your use of measures and indicators as circumstances and information changes.
  6. Keep the milestones, corrective actions, projects and activities in separate columns on your scorecard because they are part of the wider picture and they are still useful.
  7. Make sure you think through the behavioural implications of your measures and targets
  8. Just don’t confuse milestones, activities and actions with proper measures.

And if you want help with this, get in touch or give me a call.