When you are trying to measure what matters, frame it in terms of Outcomes, rather than Outputs. When you start to measure something, then that number will tend to improve as you focus on it. If you are committing to something, then ticking off progress towards is an important way to help you get there.
It’s vital to make sure that the focus is on the actions that end up moving the right needle in the right way. Getting this right can take some time, so it’s worth putting effort in at the start.
The classic example from the tech world is measuring of how many lines of code a particular person has written. It’s a terrible metric, but let’s dig into the why.
Firstly, it’s easy to game. Software engineers can look at this, and just write code that does the same thing in more lines of code. It ends up being counter productive, as you see more complexity for no actual benefit.
Secondly, it’s not linked to the benefits that you are trying to bring to customers. Software exists to solve problems but the number of lines of code is not linked to this. This means the measure is incentivising something that’s not connected to your true goals, which is a bad place to be.
You can run this process with any sort of measure you want to use:
- What outcome are you aiming for?
- How can you measure progress towards that outcome?
- If the measurements are focused on, what behaviours will that drive?
- Does that behaviour support the outcomes you are driving for?
If you’ve got good measures that support positive progress to a great outcome, then you are in the right place to move forwards.
You will tend to find that your measures become a bit more complex, as you try to balance multiple behaviours. That’s a positive thing, but make sure to refine them until they are as simple as possible, while still driving you towards the best outcomes.
They’ll also become more specific to your particular situation, which again is a positive as it ties you more closely to the problems that you are trying to solve.
So instead of measuring the amount of code written, you may instead consider how you can help the team make more releases per month whilst reducing the number of issues caused in the production systems.
That’s better, as it’s encouraging fast and small releases, something we enjoy in tech as it reduces risk and means that we can learn faster by putting features in front of customers sooner.
Even better may be to aim to increase revenue, conversion or another core business metric. That brings more of the team together, allows you to focus on solving problems and may results in creative solutions like removing low value of complex features, which you’d never do if you were just focused on writing lots of code.
Focusing on the right outcomes is a powerful driver to positive change and unlocking the creativity of the people you are working with. As a leader that’s a core part of your role, so put the effort in early and reap the dividends of an engaged and highly performing team.