Metrics and Measurements: The Do’s and Don’ts.

“Don’t look back.” That’s a popular phrase often used to inspire confidence in your decisions. While that might be good personal advice, it’s terrible business advice. Where business is concerned, the opposite is true: “Look back often.” Looking back is a vital component of the competitive marketplace – someone might be gaining on you, and you need to know about it. But on a deeper level, looking back is an exercise in taking stock of where the business has come from, how far it’s gone, and how close it is in relation to where you want to be. Staying ahead of the curve requires a retrospective on past performance and what clues it offers on the future.

These are problems that every business information technology (IT) organization faces when developing new services: How will they know that an IT service is successful? How will they know what kind of value it provides to the customer? Which measurements and metrics will appear on the yardstick of progress? There are definite right and wrong answers to these questions; the right answers will provide insight into value and service improvement, while the wrong answers risk leading an IT service off-track entirely. Let’s take a look at some of the common challenges and solutions.

METRICS AND MEASUREMENT

To keep IT Services as efficient and effective as possible, they need to be held to a tight standard against critical success factors such as “Respond to Incidents Quickly” and “Maintain Customer Satisfaction”. This is where metrics and measurements can be used to identify an organization’s IT Service Management strengths and weaknesses and play a key role in continual service improvement. To that end, IT Service managers need to engage in frequent reflection: Are customers viewing IT services as responsive and solution-oriented? Are IT services meeting business requirements? Are incidents being scaled according to proper service-level agreement (SLA) and priority level? These are all components of service value and can only be effectively measured through the use of relevant performance metrics.

The key term is “relevant”. Collecting data and giving it a name is easy, but metrics for the sake of metrics accomplish nothing. Too many IT managers make the mistake of collecting and organizing huge amounts of data, spending a great deal of time and effort on lovely charts but to no real point or purpose. Metrics shouldn’t be tracked simply because the data is available. What was George Mallory’s stated reason for attempting to climb Everest? “Because it’s there!”

IT Service managers shouldn’t take the George Mallory approach. Instead, consider the classic IT metric dialectic: What can we measure vs. What should we measure? The latter question needs to be the basis of metric development in order to properly align with business objectives and contribute to management thinking.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a suite of service desk and incident metrics, but there are best practices which can be utilized for a solid first approach:

  • As alluded to earlier, Align metrics with business requirements. This fits in nicely with SLA considerations. Properly aligned, metrics provide direct insight into service value and the business impact of improvements to IT service delivery. This allows IT Service managers to view value through the customer’s eyes.
  • Understand how certain metrics interrelate; for instance, First Contact Resolution (FCR) and Average Call Handling Time (AHT). If excessive emphasis is placed on AHT, then Help Desk personnel may focus too much on ending calls quickly – possibly leading to a decrease in FCR. By that same token, focusing too heavily on FCR may lead to personnel spending far too long on calls that should instead be sent to Level 2 support. Consider the interrelation of these metrics when assessing their importance.
  • Monitor the trends, not just the values. Present and past value can only tell you what has already occurred, but the trend offers a glimpse into the future. If IT service metrics are headed in a direction that doesn’t meet business objectives, spotting the trend in advance allows management the opportunity to fix the issue before it becomes a major failure.

The ultimate goal of collecting IT service metrics is to reveal more than just relevant performance trends; they should identify resounding opportunities for service improvement, the bread and butter of increasing customer satisfaction and value. Crafting performance metrics centered around customer-focused goals and business objectives will shed light on the process of continual service improvement, maximizing customer value over the longer term.

Even after crafting meaningful, relevant metrics, there are still pitfalls to watch out for. From the get-go, the proper tools need to be in place for collecting measurements interpreting them into metrics. If data recorded is inaccurate or overly complicated to work with, then IT service managers will have a difficult time maximizing the value they bring to the improvement process. It can also be tempting for an IT organization to lose focus of the customer entirely in favor of the metric instead, making the enterprise a numbers game. This isn’t always obvious at first, but issues with customer satisfaction pile up as it becomes evident that services aren’t attentive to evolving or contextual customer needs. Metrics should never, ever be considered a replacement for ongoing service-related discussions with the customer.

CONCLUSION

Let this be an introductory lesson to the finer points of metrics and measurements. Remember, they should be carefully selected and relevant, and never-ever used as a substitute for direct customer feedback. With the right application, meticulously tracked and relevant metrics will provide a huge amount of insight into service performance – opening it for improvement.

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