Working on the future of the finance function with Prophix recently, we defined a transition that every organisation needs to make. I realised this weekend that this principle can be generalised to all areas of business — indeed operations in any type of organisation.
Put simply, stop wasting time on measurement.
20 seconds to comply
This idea started in the world of company finance. Here, compliance, which we loosely defined as the preparation of all financial reporting required by regulatory authorities, shareholders and internal stakeholders, is too often a process. Even though the same, standard reports have to be completed on a known schedule, each new report consumes huge amounts of time to produce, since the numbers have to be gathered, processed and presented.
This is a perfect opportunity for automation: digital inputs, digital outputs, definable, repeatable processes. With automation, compliance becomes a state not a process.
You are always ready, always compliant.
Don’t do, measure
This weekend I was chatting to a friend in academia about the insane process of responding to the Research Excellence Framework or REF. Not only do some Universities complete their required response every six years, they try to monitor their progress each year. A valid approach, you might think — you want to know how you are progressing and six years is a long window between scores. But, the administrative overhead in responding to the REF, and the interim scoring exercises, is enormous. Not just in administrative posts to support it, but in time spent by the academics when they could be doing more research to improve their REF scores.
If this were the only factor, there might be a good argument to keep on with the measurement process: you don’t want to be flying blind for six years. But there’s something else. The research academics produce is published in peer-reviewed journals. The REF is essentially a peer-review process. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between scores you can extrapolate from a department’s track record publishing in the journals, and the results of the REF.
Measurement is inherent in the core activity of the academic. A measurement process put on top of it is redundant. Worse, it takes people away from adding value that could improve the very thing you’re trying to measure.
Same problem, different day
This situation is not unique to universities. Or finance departments. Almost every organisation I interact with devotes time to measuring what has been done, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And often this measurement is a waste of time. Not because the metric itself is not useful, but because measurement should be embedded in the process.
Consider measurement in three parts: capture, analysis, presentation. Ask yourself these questions:
— Is the information we need to capture already captured elsewhere, or could we change our processes so that it is captured as a natural consequence of day-to-day activity?
A good example of this is moving from emails & documents to a proper workflow system that captures interactions. Not only will you save a lot of time hunting down documents, you will be able to extract data on performance.
— How much analysis do we really need to do in order to extract value from the data?
Too often ‘analysis’ hides a degree of arse-covering that disguises real results. Keep processing to a minimum.
— Is the time spent on presentation well spent?
Pretty charts and graphs are all well and good if they contribute to understanding. But is all that time you spend formatting in Excel and PowerPoint really adding value? Or would the person receiving the report prefer that you spent the time upping the results? Be ruthless about what is useful and automate presentation wherever possible.
Ask yourself those three questions and see what you find. The key rule is that measurement should never, ever be a process. It should be intrinsic in your activity.