Spanish Car dashboard. Photo Credit: Joyce Bredesen

Dear IT Director,

I know metrics are a good thing. But metrics need goals, right? I have some metrics that don’t make any sense to have goals for. Like number of Help Desk tickets coming in. If I set a goal, it will make me and my team take the wrong kind of actions.

Waffling in Wauwatosa

Dear Waffling,

Ah, yes, the dreaded metric goal problem. You are not alone in struggling with this. Many good intentions have been sidetracked elsewhere because of this.

Using numbers to measure human behavior is necessary and it is problematic. Proceed with caution.

We have metrics because we want to track the health of a business process. But what we call “metrics” is really two things: metrics (in the true sense) and monitors.

Metrics are used to control the process. We have targets for each metric and we take actions to hit those targets. Metrics directly drive action.

There is, however, a class of measurements that are useful for monitoring a process. These are not used to directly drive actions, but rather inform related decisions and indirectly drive actions. Your example of the number of incoming help desk tickets is a good example of that. You might also want to monitor the number of escalations or the number of one-call closes.

Setting goals for the monitors can cause unintended consequences. As you dig into all of these, you find that you only want to improve them if it doesn’t improve the real metrics you have for a Help Desk: speed & quality.

Sure, you want fewer escalations, but not at the expense of speed and quality. Same with one-call closes. These other monitors, including the incoming ticket count, are used to understand the metrics. They may also point to causes of problems for the real metrics.

I would suggest that you have a very small number of metrics and a larger number of monitors. Metrics should drive your management of the Help Desk. Monitors give you information to improvement your management.

Hope this helps,

The IT Director

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