Performance Measurement

Performance measurement is a systematic ongoing process to assess how well an organization, project, or program is doing its job. It applies objective (typically quantitative) information to help managers and customers determine whether the expected results are being achieved. Measurement is a part of effectively managing. Performance measurement also serves as the core for many of today’s management methods and techniques including:

  • Lean
  • ISO 9000
  • ITIL
  • CMMI
  • Balanced scorecard
  • Program evaluation
  • Benchmarking
  • Performance auditing
  • TQM
  • Process/Business reengineering

Why Bother?
In general there are several reasons for instituting a performance measurement program including:

  • Provide accountability to the public and higher levels of authority
  • Focusing policy discussion on results (rather than politics)
  • Identifying opportunities for improvement
  • Providing a basis for motivating and supporting employees and organizational performance
  • Guiding the allocation of increasingly limited resources in public sector agencies
  • Evaluating the efficacy of new management methods or techniques (e.g. Lean)
  • Improving the measurement system itself.

The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has even stated: “Governmental accountability is based on the belief that the citizenry has a ‘right to know,’ a right to receive openly declared facts that may lead to public debate by the citizens and their elected representatives.” 

Let’s assume that, as stated in the GASB quote, citizens have a “right to know” how well government programs are working on their behalf.  (After all, even if you are not directly benefiting from a particular program chances are good that a portion of your taxes is paying for that program.)  Then it follows that those programs must have a method for measuring how well the programs are working – and they must have a way to communicate that information back to the citizens.  A performance measurement system does both.

Barriers to Success
Performance measurement has had an uneven history in public sector agencies.  Very few government entities have successfully implemented performance measurement and use the measures well.  Even when successfully implemented we find many times that measures are eventually ignored and discarded.  There are four overarching reasons for failure:

  • Defining meaningful measures is a technically challenging task in public sector.  Governments don’t manage to increase the “bottom line”.  This means the key measurements are different than in private sector.  We often see governments try and emulate private sector measures which doesn’t work.
  • Measures chosen have too many technical flaws or are too complex.  If the collection of measures itself is a heavy burden, there aren’t staff available to collect the data (and who has extra staff these days), or the measures themselves have technical flaws support for measurement will wane in the organization.  We’ve seen many efforts die on the vine because of technical flaws in the measures or measurement process.
  • Lack of support or intermittent support from senior management.  The single best predictor for success of performance measurement is that it has the support of at lease one senior manager who values quantitate information and consistently uses it to management.
  • Lack of collaboration and participation of agency staff and third parties.  To work well, performance measures must have broad participation of staff and, at times, even external partners.

There are multiple reasons performance measurement initiatives fail.  However, if you are aware of the reasons for failure and take care to avoid them when developing and implementing your measurement system, you can be successful.

Public Knowledge, LLC has a comprehensive approach to developing and training you in the use of measures on your projects and programs. We have helped many clients implement measures in support of their initiatives. We’ve found that, when applied correctly and consistently, performance measures increase the odds of successfully implementing a program or project, improve efficiencies, and lower costs.