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What gets measured gets done

by Susan M. Gardner
in Magazine

It’s likely that we’ve all heard this before: “What gets measured, gets done.

This often-repeated maxim has, as its foundation, the basic principles of performance measurement and management. The concept has been touted by numerous management gurus over the years (Peter Drucker perhaps being the most notable). However, its roots date much further back in recorded history. Rheticus, a 16th-century mathematician, cartographer, and astronomer, has been credited with being the first to suggest that “if you can measure something, then you have some control over it.”

In his feature article, Milton Friesen teases out some of this idea as it relates to municipalities deriving the full benefits of the evaluation process. At its heart, evaluation involves determining where the organization is today, where it wants to be, and devising a plan to move it towards that envisioned future. (This loudly echoes the fundamentals of strategic planning, underscoring the prominent role of evaluation in implementing the strategic plan.)

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In this process, of course, it’s not only evaluation or measurement that counts. It’s also critical that you use the right tool for the job. Friesen refers us to a report by FSG, suggesting that the organization must be specific about the issue to be addressed; must determine whether that issue is simple, complicated, or complex; and must choose the appropriate evaluation tool accordingly. (As the saying goes, there is no need to use a hammer when a flyswatter will do.)

These performance measurement principles are as timeless today as they were in the 1500s. They form the core philosophy for many valuable management tools. For example, “Lean thinking,” as explored by Larry Coté and Jag Sharma, is based around a process of measurement and mapping, and the pursuit of continuous improvement – with potential to vastly transform an organization. (With its roots in the automotive industry, Lean is also a tool that demonstrates the value and application of measurement principles across diverse industries and organizations.)

Regardless of the tool, however, it’s ongoing evaluation that really makes the difference. It’s important that the evaluation process is not simply about taking a snapshot at a given point in time, but involves a series of snapshots over time, so that we can find the answer to this single basic question: Are we making progress?
Depending on the issue, the process for getting the answer to that question (and the answer itself) may not always be simple, but odds are good that it will always be worth knowing. Read on!

Susan M. Gardner, MPA is Editor and Publisher of Municipal World.

as published in Municipal World, July 2016

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