Two things I have always enjoyed are numbers and stories. You might think these are not related, but to me they are. Metrics or numbers on their own aren’t very interesting. The stories behind those numbers are what matters. Facts and figures generally don’t elicit emotions or drive people to action, that’s what stories do. Facts and figures should be used to support the story you want to tell.
Think about the metrics used in your company today to measure success. Sales tracks the number of bookings. Marketing tracks social media followers. Support tracks numbers of tickets opened. Team members receive rewards and accolades when metrics move in the right direction. It isn’t the number itself that excites us; it is what the number represents-AKA the story behind the number.
In a recent article interview for CIO magazine, I spoke about the continued misalignment between business and IT. I can talk about this subject for hours. The article lists many reasons for this misalignment including:
• The ever-increasing demands for digital transformation and the rush to release and innovate. The rapid pace of continuous deployment and continuous integration can lead to extra pressure and stress on IT organizations.
• Alignment requires collaboration. Both of these need effective communication. If you aren’t communicating, there is no way you can align IT and business.
Let’s take a look at how metrics and stories can align organizations. To do so, I’m going to tell you a story about a CEO and CIO.
A CEO starts every Monday morning reading the quarterly sales forecast. She is unhappy that the forecast is still trending down. The CIO starts his morning reviewing metrics on incident resolution times. The average time to close an incident has been steadily going down, he is happy. The CTO starts their morning looking at how many code deploys occurred the previous week. The team set another record, they are thrilled.
Three different executives are looking at three different metrics in a silo and aren’t looking at the bigger picture. There isn’t alignment. Let’s take a step back and see how the organization got here. Three months ago sales were flat. The company decided to take on some digital transformation initiatives and ramp up the pace of introducing new features to try and increase sales. This did not have the effect they were hoping for.
What happened? Instead of looking at how the company actions impacted end users and sales, they looked at individual team metrics. Doing more code deploys led to more instability and bugs–there were a couple of outages, application performance slowed down, and users received more errors. The overall number of incidents increased significantly. Operations fixed all of these issues quickly, but end users were still upset. A once reliable application became less so, and users started going to more reliable sites.
Focusing on a single metric does not tell the whole story. For alignment, everybody needs to focus on the same issue. In this case, the company needed to focus on what could be done to increase sales. They needed to look at each initiative through a lens of “did this change result in increased sales.” If not, why not.
Metrics are important to collect. They tell us about the health of our systems, and if things are operating as expected. An increase in page load time does not automatically mean it is time to start panicking. Are you seeing a drop in time spent on site as a result of the performance change? How are end users being impacted? If there is no impact to end users–don’t worry. If complaints come in from end users, it’s still not the time to panic–it’s time to investigate. Look at why the increase happened. What changed to make it increase? What can be done to change things?
Metrics can help us to align on the same goals. The story behind the metric will drive us to action.