You can only improve what you notice and you can only notice what you measure. If you want to improve some area of your life or work, you have to be able to measure it. Without some way to gauge your progress, you won’t know if you are making improvement or not.
For example, when I was running the technical department at a large non-profit corporation, I started measuring our response time for help desk tickets. This was quantifiable data, and by looking at the trends over time, we were able to see if our response time was improving (going down) or getting worse (going up). Without measuring this, we would of had no objective way to measure our performance and we would have been left guessing based on how we “felt” we were doing.
Once you have something to measure, you need to make sure you notice it. In the previous situation, I made graphs that showed how we were doing each week and posted them near the office door each week. Everyone in my department could see exactly how we were doing, if we were improving and if we were meeting our goals. This kept it very visible and helped people focus on the part that they needed to plan in improving our numbers.
At a software company where I worked, I hooked up red and green lava lamps to indicate how things were going. When the software was passing the tests and building as planned, the green light was lit. When tests were failing or there were other problems with the code, our system would automatically switch on the red light. This let everyone on the team see the current status and helped us focus on what we needed to do as individuals to get the green light back on.
If you are painting a wall or building a house, it is easy to see your progress. Many jobs are abstract, so it is hard to see your progress. By transforming your measurements into concrete visual indicators, you can make the important things get noticed and help drive appropriate action.
Originally published October 1, 2005.