Developing a Strategy

Fortunately there are steps agencies can take to ensure their metrics accurately represent a department’s successes and failures. For starters, the Miami-Dade County Solid Waste department’s approach to crafting effective measures involves biannual reviews of its measurements — and accepting that there’s no such thing as ideal metrics.

“Creating effective metrics is more of an art than a science,” Silver said. “You have to play with them so you see the relationships [between data sets]. You may find some of your metrics are wrong, or some are close to being right or that they need adjusting. But if you wait for perfection, you won’t get there either.”

In addition to revisiting its chosen metrics annually, the Arkansas DIS relies on a strategic planning process to ensure its measurements are up to date and involve the right data.

The Arkansas DIS has the right idea, according to Paul Arveson, senior associate and founder of the Balanced Scorecard Institute. “A good strategy mapping practice is really key to establishing the right metrics,” Arveson said. “The strategy map shows how you connect the dots.”

That’s because a strategy map meticulously details a government agency’s vision of what will be achieved via metrics, relevant policies and procedures, as well as the perspectives and objectives with which effective metrics should align.

“We like to build the strategy map with a cross-functional team that cuts across the organization so that everybody has to figure out how to align [metrics] to the vision of the organization,” he said.

By developing strategic plans that evaluate success, Arveson said agencies are more accountable for the results of their actions. Better yet, by accurately demonstrating the value of particular projects and its impact on the overall department — whether it’s providing telco services or collecting garbage — agencies stand a better chance of justifying their IT spending.

Working Together

Another way agencies are creating effective metrics is through team work. “For five years now, we’ve had a monthly business review meeting where we bring in all senior staff and we put key metrics up on the wall so we can see and comment on them,” Rose said. “It makes it relatively easy to put a lot of data in one place, post our objectives and the measures that support them. Every month, we look at the information and talk about what it means to us.”

Talburt also supports a collaborative approach to creating effective metrics and selecting the proper data sets for evaluation. “The strategy now to improve information quality overall is to have governance,” he said. Such governance includes the use of a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) or Responsibility Assignment Matrix, which defines and describes the roles of the various parties involved in completing a task for a particular project.

“It’s the idea that all stakeholders in the organization who have anything to do with an agency’s information, which is virtually everybody, have a seat at a table at a governance council,” Talburt said. “What happens is the people in the organization are responsible or accountable throughout a project.”

Making sure a number of professionals from a variety of departments have a vested interest in applying up-to-date and accurate metrics can ease the metrics design and review process. In the end, though, government agencies must remember that establishing metrics isn’t about gauging productivity levels or making stockholders happy. After all, said Rose, “We’re not in the business to make a profit, but to serve the public.”

Arveson agrees. “It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about mission success, mission performance.” And by creating metrics with the right amount of flexibility, strategy mapping, collaboration and governance, a government agency can create clear path to mission effectiveness.

Cindy Waxer is a journalist whose articles have appeared in publications including the The Economist, Fortune Small Business, CNNMoney.com, CIO and Computerworld. cwaxer@sympatico.ca

Cindy Waxer  |  Contributing Writer

Cindy Waxer is a journalist whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, Fortune Small Business, CNNMoney.com, CIO and Computerworld.