In defence of the lowly KPI…

I’ve had alot of fun hanging out with an Ed Tech/ Open Ed group over the past week. Most of what was said made sense to me. Then the conversation shifted to KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)…

Now I have seen alot of bad KPIs. Example: A boss shared with me our new measures of success including “Number of meetings attended” with the goal being to attend more meetings. Yikes! (I left 42 days later; he “exited” 8 months after that).

And yet even this ill-fated KPI had some utility in that it quickly led to two conclusions: (1) Meeting count is an extremely bad productivity measure, (2) My boss was an idiot . Both of these conclusions were preferable to years of speculation, anecdotal evidence and presentations trying to support an ill-conceived concept. “Well I went to a meeting once and we made some really good decisions and if meetings aren’t all bad, they must be good.”

Trying to measure most things is a like nailing jello to the wall. It is rarely fully successful, but usually a little bit sticks.

JelloBased on the bits that stick, you might learn something and what you learn might help you to better define what it is you are trying to measure (A fully baked (or in this case set) definition is often not  required to get started).

KPIs are important because they help non-experts to make sense of really complex stuff. I don’t fully understand how GDP is calculated, but when I look at a map coloured according to GDP, I can quickly see an economic story unfold.

GDP map 2

It did however take a lot of time and discussion to get to the current GDP measurement and within the right circles there continue to be great discussions about its calculation method.

Advancing the discussion on climate change also required metrics (historical temperatures measure in Farrenheit which is not my preferred measurement…) which then allows scientists to measure change over time and develop models to evaluate the impact of actions promised by leaders. Those metrics and models are also helping scientists to explain why the actions proposed to date are simply not enough to change our course.

Climate change

Data, performance measurements, action plans, compelling anecdotes, innovation and activism all working together might  be just enough to save us.

Having measures (KPIs) by which to track where you have been, where you are, and where you want to go is powerful. Getting those measures right takes effort,  learning from mistakes, and course corrections. KPIs sometimes support meaningful change. Other times, they enable conversation around why that meaningful change is not happening which, on good days, drive the development of new metrics, new actions, or a combination of the two.





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