Are you looking forward or backward?

Imagine trying to drive a car where your entire view was a giant rear-view mirror. You have a great view of everything behind you, but you cant see a thing in traffic ahead.

What are the odds you will get where you are going?

Now while that may sound a little foolish, surprisingly it’s the way most people run their programs or projects.
What about you? Are you always looking back instead of concentrating on what’s ahead?

If you are, you’re making a big mistake. You are making it much more difficult to reach your objective. You need to know where you are every step of the way to chief your objectives in the fastest time possible.

But how do you know that?

Metrics you need to look at will show you the path you need to be on to get where you are going. Important stuff. Setting ‘fuzzy’ goals means you never know the exact steps needed to take to reach them. You wonder why you feel lost and don’t make progress.

It’s because you don’t set clear precise objectives. Objective setting is paramount.

Now what? How do you monitor your progress? What kind of metrics do you need to make sure you are on track?

Quite frankly I don’t think we spend anywhere near enough time thinking through the metrics that would help you manage your work better and focus on what to do next.

The first thing we need to do is to draw a distinction between metrics that tell you what has happened versus metrics that are going to give you an indication as to what is likely to happen in the future.

Rear view metrics

Any metric that tell you what has happened is looking at the past. They are telling you about your performance looking backwards.
That is vitally important, but unfortunately that’s where most people stop. Measuring traffic volumes, passenger boardings, vehicle crashes, freight moved, fuel used etc are all measuring what happened in the past.

Predictive metrics

What you also need are predictive or leading indicators. For example you can predict future traffic demand from historic population, employment and traffic growth rates.

So you need a balance of indicators that will tell you what’s happened in the past, as well as what you can expect in the future.
Once you have clearly established the objective(s) for your project or program, it is useful to map out the hierarchy of outcomes, using a tool such as Logical Framework Analysis.

What this means is that by taking a certain action or applying resources it is expected that certain outputs will result and ultimately the desired outcomes.

So interim measures of the outputs are a useful predictor of the likely outcomes, based on historical observations.

For example we want to reduce the number of crashes due to speeding and undertake a program of education and enforcement. The problem is that it may take quite some time to get statistically significant results. A leading indicator would be the number of drivers caught speeding. If the number of infringements per capita are falling significantly then it is likely that the number of crashes due to speeding are also falling.

By monitoring the impact of the resources being applied using predictive measures you can quickly assess if adjustments are required to ensure program is tracking in the desired direction.

Specific plans are needed to move you forward with your objectives and that planning gets easier if you can identify the metrics that matter.