Bob Behn, a cut-to-the-chase guy, whose work I have followed because of his longstanding efforts (and pithy comments) in promoting performance leadership, cautions not to get wrapped up in perfecting your measures. Behn is known for promoting the Citi-Stat review model as a mechanism to improve performance in government.
But as important as managing with data is, I believe the most important thing is to start measuring. In the closing of Behn’s recent management report, focused on distortions that may be created by measures, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/thebehnreport/All%20Issues/August2011.pdf, Behn writes that there are no perfect measures. He argues the best approach is to start with a few good measures, not perfect ones. Be aware of their flaws. Expect your indicators to be criticized and improved while your organization learns about improving performance.
I spend a great deal of my time thinking, developing and researching measures for inclusion in the Revelstone Compass system. I’m trying to identify and develop measures that would be most relevant for small to moderate size municipalities, and to define and refine those measures for our clients to choose among in order to begin measuring and managing performance. I am proud of my work and the thoughtful review of my colleagues and clients, but we haven’t created any perfect measures either. Good measures, yes, but a measure is just a measure until it’s used to help improve performance.
So, in the words of Dr. Behn, “get over it” and start measuring.