The era of corporate quantification has finally come of age. OKRs and KPIs are now the operational oxygen we breathe. Yet as we seemingly live and die by metrics, I routinely find myself asking an incredibly simple question: is the IT organization really moving the needle?
Moving the needle
Moving the needle means producing products and/or services that improve the organization. This may entail increasing revenue, reducing costs, or becoming more efficient. A needle is simply a metaphor for measuring value delivery, and value is in the eye of the customer; not the delivery arm. Value itself is the incremental improvement we seek. Tasks and activities are merely the means to that end; the sausage-making if you will, which is largely hidden and inconsequential to the customer.
When delivery stalls
It’s easy to lose sight of IT delivery when there’s so much minutiae to track. IT teams routinely get sidetracked and can rabbit hole on complex issues for weeks. An indication of this occurs when delivery reports or standups start to sound more like dramatic movie scripts. Rather than enumerating what’s been completed, we instead hear tales of technical woes and bureaucratic bottlenecks; the much-loathed corporate villains who aim to stall progress indefinitely!
In such scenarios, management may try to dig into the minutiae, or simply trust that the team will eventually “figure it all out.” Either way, things go south when leaders don’t have a pulse on what’s shipping. Days turn into weeks, and before you know it, you’re looking back on the quarter and wondering what customer value was actually realized.
Getting a finger on the pulse of productivity
IT leaders must understand the value stream of a project. Period. Said differently – leaders need to be acutely aware of what’s getting into customer hands and by when. Fortunately, this doesn’t require leaders to become a program (mico-)manager. Forget about slack time, milestones, sprints and velocity. You can leave all those complex program measurements on table.
Instead, simply ask your team the following question: what have we delivered to customers in the past thirty days? The answer may surprise you.