The Importance of Measuring the Right Things

I firmly believe in the saying, “What you measure, you improve,” but it’s essential that we measure the correct things.

There are many benefits to measurement:

  • it provides a baseline of performance against which we can show improvement;
  • it communicates what we see as important and can help provide focus;
  • it can give us important data which can be analyzed to identify improvements;
  • it can be used as a basis for target setting, bonus schemes, reward & recognition.

My first experience with measurement came when I was playing rugby.

We had a new coach and he was very much into measurements and metrics as a way to improve our winning record.

When he joined as coach we were winning around 50% of our games, and one of our main issues was that although we were scoring lots of points we were also conceding lots of points. From this, he decided that it was our defense that was in need of improvement.

So we started to measure, and count, the number of tackles made by each player and compare that to what we expected. This helped us to identify players who were not involved enough in defence.

As the saying goes, what you measure you improve, and the count of tackles increased.

However, as these counts improved and met expectations, we actually didn’t see any improvement in results we still conceded too many points.

As points were scored when tackles were missed rather than when tackles were made the coach started to count the number of tackles missed by each player.

After reviewing this information, what we saw was that often it was the players who were making high numbers of tackles who were missing the most tackles.

This meant we had been focusing on the wrong area; we had been improving the tackle counts of players with low tackle counts but we had not been addressing the missed tackles, which is where we were conceding points.

To address this the coach increased our training in tackling, focusing on improving technique.

Whilst this did lead to some improvements in technique, it didn’t really reduce the number of tackles missed and our overall performance didn’t really improve.

Next, our coach looked to identify when the tackles were missed, to see if that led to any further insights.

What this showed was, that for several players, especially those heavily involved in defence, they would be perfect for the majority of the game missing very few tackles, but then in the last 10 minutes this was when they started to miss tackles.

From this it was clear that the issue wasn’t tackling technique, but fitness.

So the coach looked to improve the fitness training, focusing on stamina as well as power and speed. He also looked to substitute some of the players 10 to 15 minutes from the end, replacing them with fresher players.

With this change we really started to see improvements in our results, we still scored as many points as before but the amount conceded reduced significantly and consequently, our winning percentage increased.

From this experience, I learnt a great deal.

It’s true that what you measure you improve, but it’s also important to ensure that you measure the right things and to review the measurement process.

Check that what you are improving is leading to the overall goal, which was winning more matches, and if it’s not change the measurement process.

It’s usually the third or fourth iteration of the measurement process that leads us to identify the real problem. So don’t spend too much time perfecting the first set of measurements.

Once we have identified the right measures, if we then look to bonus those measures then we will see significant improvement in the overall performance, which will lead us to success.

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