Dial in Measures of Meaning That Truly Count

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Culture, Innovate, Leadership, Value
Tags: , , , , , ,

Telephone

Obsolescence can be a sad and difficult journey.  I recently read that the generation being born now may never know a dial tone.  In 1888, Almon B. Strowger conceived an idea for an automatic phone exchange which resulted in the dial tone.  122 years or so is a good run, particularly for the by-product of an invention.  Obsolescence can also be the path to progress, met with cheers and adulation.

Some measures count but do they really matter?
I am quite certain we can sit for hours, listen to some 8 track tapes and create a list of all the things we’d wish would become obsolete.  Near the top of my list would be useless reports.  You know, the ones that take hours to complete and seconds to ignore.  Interestingly, we find it far easier to add on more reports or measures than to take the useless ones away.  A friend in another industry recently shared: “taking a useless report away from a vice president is like taking the pacifier away from my infant daughter – not a pretty sight.”

Before creating a new report, measure or metric I now ask the question:  This will help us better serve (members, community, staff, donors, partners) how? No fancy decision tree, I guess you’d call it a decision root or trunk.

Have any useless reports or measures?  If a report becomes obsolete does it make a sound (or do we)?  Any helpful tips in how to push the useless into obsolescence?

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Comments
  1. Jackson Wilson says:

    Can you provide a couple examples of reports that you’ve found “obsolete”, by what measure and how you were able to wrest them from the organization?

    • Worked with a non-profit that monthly counted the number of inquiry e-mails. The report had been in existence for 5 years and all it literally did was count them. It is very pretty in Excel with colors and all, but it was a count without any closure, donation results, action taken or engagement results. I didn’t really “wrest” it away, I asked its purpose and the answer was “we’ve always done it that way” (my favorite launch pad).

      • Jackson Wilson says:

        So did you advise them to scrap that report or modify it so it focused not on counting the inquiries (possibly a leading indicator) but rather on counting results (subscriptions, new members, failed conversions)?

        We’re in the midst of building out a large Business Intelligence system and I’m having the same discussions nearly daily. Usually end with me saying something like “Ok. We can track that number. What are you going to do if it goes up? What are you going to do if it goes down”. If the answer is “we’ll do more analysis” or “we will look in to it”, I’m on the path to finding the REAL items that should be tracked.

  2. I cannot imagine the reports you must have to wade through in BIS, especially in a large intelligence rich environment — you’re running into the pacified.

    I promote gathering the information that leads to direct action — we use a number of listening posts to gather info for an engagement report: more pool furniture, altered classes based on new school district start time, and launched a family program all in July.

    As you always push me — what is the desired outcome? More widgets, more accurate widgets, scalable widget quality, widget market penetration? What decisions or actions will we take with the information? “More analysis” can lead to paralysis — sounds like we’re establishing a defense of a decision before a decision is made. Measure twice, cut once — too much information and we’d never cut.

    Perfection doesn’t scale, not sure what we’re waiting for. The Iphone4 has an antenna problem – big deal, I’m sure the sales are satisfactory.

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