IT metrics: 5 measurement mistakes to avoid

Too often, business leaders use the wrong metrics to measure the success of their IT departments. Consider the following pitfalls and how to sidestep them
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Crack in ground, employees falling into crack

The single biggest factor in a successful IT services team is not the scope of its output, but the outcome of the services it provides. Companies have traditionally used metrics to measure their IT services that may look good from a KPI perspective but that do not focus on their end-users’ needs. This results in frustrated end-users, a poor reputation for IT, and ultimately, lost time and productivity.

Instead, focus on an experience-centric culture – including services that add value, happiness, and boost productivity – and avoid making the following five mistakes:

1. Focusing on output over outcomes

Measuring output will not provide insight into how end-users are experiencing the services you deliver – let alone if these services are producing value or increasing productivity.

Measuring output can even negatively impact IT if your team is unable to deliver a high-quality service to end-users and achieve set KPIs and service level agreements (SLAs). This wastes time, money, and damages your IT team’s reputation.

[ For more insight on building a creative problem-solving culture, read 4 exercises to ignite creative problem solving on teams. ]

In the eyes of management, IT is in the green and doing its job. For the rest of the company, IT is in the red.

This creates a “watermelon effect:” In the eyes of management, IT is in the green and doing its job. For the rest of the company, IT is in the red – it becomes a challenge to deal with, which disincentivizes your IT department from working productively.

However, measuring outcomes focuses on the value you want to achieve from creating and delivering services to your end-users. Putting your end-users at the center of every service lets you work out how to bring them more value, boost happiness, and increase their productivity by delivering the services they need most.

Measuring outcomes also leads to a more engaged IT services department, as your team will work to create meaningful improvements and services that add real business value.

2. Discouraging feedback, or hiding it from IT

We don’t learn if we don’t know what we did wrong. Equally, we don’t progress if we don’t know what we’re doing right.

Feedback can be daunting. However, by collecting constant experience data from end-users, you get powerful insights into how your IT is performing and key areas where end users are losing productivity.

In general, the majority of feedback is often positive, so sharing this with your IT team is highly motivating for them. When negative feedback is received, team members can drill down into data to learn the true pain points and what service areas they need to fix or improve. If you ignore negative feedback or try to protect your IT department from “badly behaving” end users, the problem will get worse and become a deeper cultural problem within the organization.

Making feedback available in real-time shows that you are listening, creates trust, and sends a message that IT cares.

Making feedback available in real-time gives you the opportunity to respond directly to end-users’ comments. This shows them that you are listening and acting on what they are saying. Not only will this create trust, but it also sends a message that IT cares. This, in turn, will create a positive effect on the reputation of your IT team.

3. Using metrics designed to protect and preserve IT operations from management

If your measurement metrics are designed to protect and preserve your operations in front of management, you have a real problem. Measuring through traditional KPIs and SLAs will only result in the watermelon effect.

To fully understand how well your IT team is performing, start measuring the experience of your end-users. How are they experiencing different services? Where are they losing productivity?

This can be discouraging as you will likely uncover data that suggests that your IT team is “not good enough.” But the fact is you can’t fix things if you can’t see that they are broken. Measurement should not be seen as punitive, but rather a way to better understand your baseline and highlight the steps you need to take to improve.

Resist the temptation to hold back from measuring until you are “good enough” to get positive feedback: You won’t be able to test whether what you are building will benefit your users. Continuous testing builds better services – it’s that simple.

Continuous testing builds better services – it's that simple.

Additionally, it will help you create a culture in which people have a clear purpose and goals, enabling them to do their work knowing they are creating value for their end-users.

4. Using sanctions instead of incentives

If you constantly point out and punish the flaws of others, they’ll soon avoid situations where you have this opportunity. The same is true of IT service providers and their external partners.

A sanction-based relationship is the perfect breeding ground for SLA games, in which service level agreement partners try to cheat the system by using loopholes to avoid sanctions. The result? Instead of working together productively, both sides will do the bare minimum to avoid getting in trouble.

Instead, incentivize your provider to constantly improve your employees’ experience and productivity. This creates an environment of collaboration and improves service for your end-users, making them happier and more productive – a win-win.

5. Ignoring sentiment for quantitative data

Data is certainly valuable, but ultimately IT service departments need to consider the wetware nestled inside our skulls. “Give quantifiable feedback on what is good about your work” is much harder to answer than “How do you feel about work?”

SLAs are invented by humans, and actions are outputs. Yet feelings, in many ways, are outcomes. They’re a biological shortcut for expressing the impact actions have on people.

Understanding where people report lost work time – and where productivity is affected – is more useful than knowing how many times they’ve performed a particular action such as a password reset. If no real work time is lost, then the service may not be essential.

Service level agreements have their place in organizations, but you shouldn’t base every decision on them.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Pasi Nikkanen is Chief Growth Officer, co-founder, and podcast host at HappySignals. Pasi has previous experience in running internal services for over 15,000 employees in a large IT company and making customers successful for a US-based software vendor.

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