Is You Corporate IT Good Enough? You Gey What You Measure For.

I jog.

But honestly, I’ve never liked jogging; I only do it because I need to exercise and there are times when other physical activities aren’t feasible or require too much engagement to get started. Cycling when it’s pouring rain or cross-country skiing with bad snow conditions are not good ideas. Jogging, on the other hand, usually requires no more preparation than a quick change of clothes and lacing up running shoes. Since I don’t really like jogging, I just run and that’s it. Don’t ask me how many minutes it takes me to run a kilometer. Don’t ask me how many Ks I ran this morning or this week. Don’t ask me if I’m improving either. I don’t know because that’s not important to me. I don’t bring my smartphone running. My watch doesn’t calculate my heart rate. I just run for forty-some minutes until it makes me feel good and then I’m done.

If ever someone succeeded in convincing me to enroll in a marathon running club where members have to successfully finish at least one official 42.2-kilometer race per year—or else they lose their membership— things would be different. I would wear a smartwatch, track all my runs, plot my progress on a chart and be very serious about measuring.

“When it’s really important, you measure it. The same thing can be said about paid work.”

If the attainment of a certain goal is critical enough to be linked to a bonus, a promotion or keeping your employment, chances are it is appraised with numbers —or will be soon enough. Conversely, failure to attain an expected performance level that is gauged quantitatively is more likely to be subject to a performance problem. We all get the hidden message when a boss is giving us numerically metered objectives: these goals are undoubtedly important.

This is universal enough to be appropriate to your digital teams as well.  Applying this common wisdom to corporate IT, three questions should be asked and answered:

  1. What are the outcomes expected from the work performed by corporate IT? Can you associate a set of objectives to these outcomes?
  2. Is the attainment of these objectives assessed? And if so, is it gauged quantitatively?
  3. And finally, do these measures of performance relate to the actual work performed and lead to empowered improvements?

The first question is the most crucial one because it directly impacts the answers provided to the next two. There’s nothing wrong in defining strategic objectives such as “driving business value through digital excellence” or any other objective that can be shared between IT folks and the rest of the organization. Bridging the great divide between technical teams and business stakeholders is certainly an objective that many —including yours truly— are craving for.

“At a very high level, business objectives for IT teams to spur a culture of cooperation is fine. But to drive performance improvement, that’s far from enough.”

Given the huge distance between business objectives and the actual services provided by your IT function, such a link becomes arbitrary and out of reach from an IT viewpoint.  Although it may be wise to link CIO performance to the organization’s success as a whole, the chosen business criteria would have to be translated into other measures of performance that IT teams can relate to and know they can improve upon. Market share or customer satisfaction index do not provide IT staff any clue for betterment.

Then whatever the chosen set of objectives, is it measured quantitatively? It’s not jogging, but it nevertheless needs to be metered. And as discussed above, metrics that are too far from what technical staffs are actually working on, won’t drive much improvement, and you may well get debatable numbers.

In this previous article —or better by looking at the bigger picture in this book about things executives need to know about IT— you will understand how today most IT teams are evaluated on. These typical metrics have a direct impact on what gets improved, but also, what isn’t being taken care of.  Enjoy!