What Can We Learn From a Historic Marathon Effort?

October 21, 2019 Focus area: Scaling Agile , Digital Transformation

We cannot change our organization without the proper metrics

1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds! With a stunning margin of 20 seconds - Eliud Kipchoge was the first man to run a marathon in under 2 hours. How did he do it? With an extraordinary body and mind, supported by an extremely scientific approach to numbers and measurement. Every variable one could think of was measured and used to increase his chance of reaching the goal. Kipchoge knew exactly which conditions would lead to perfection and measured everything possible to find these conditions, and so should you.

Every sport becomes Formula 1

Although history was written that day, the extensive use of data is not a new phenomenon in sport. With increasing availability of affordable sensors, computing power and algorithms, the usage of metrics to monitor the path to success has become the standard in almost every sport. Even beyond the world of professional athletes, the use of data and metrics has been adopted by many. Think of the all the Fitbits and smartwatches decorating our wrists today.

Change management forgot about the numbers

In a business context the use of data is also old news. The term KPI is used on a daily basis, and organizations usually have more dashboards than they can handle. However, the indicators are mostly solely focused on daily business and operations, displaying numbers that everybody understands: Money. When it comes to organizational transformations the urge to measure everything seems to suddenly disappear.

Look before you leap

While I believe the definition of metrics is a must have and the starting point for any successful transformation, they are often labeled as a nice to have upfront and a won’t have in practice. A waste of time, energy and resources are the result.

Know where you are going

The importance of metrics is obvious: If you cannot see where you are, it is impossible to decide where to go. A blindfolded man cannot see the path he is taking. What’s more, he cannot even decide which path he should take! It is not only about knowing when your goal is reached but also about monitoring whether a certain approach leads to the success you are aiming for.

We are afraid of tools

While most would agree on the above, few really act accordingly. I think part of the problem lies in the growing aversion for trying to quantify everything. In the age of Agile we are taught to think individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This might lead you to think that it must be wrong to look at a dashboard or reports.

What if the numbers say we are wrong?

Secondly, it definitely is hard to come up with a useful set of indicators. There is no denying that. If the numbers are there, people will hold you accountable even if they don’t understand the context or know how they are measured. With the risk that an ill-defined metric can raise questions on your progress, some managers prefer not to measure anything at all.

Find the drivers to success and measure those

In the end everything is done to create value, which is generally measured in revenue or profit. However, those measures are driven by so many variables that it cannot be used to monitor the success of your transformation. Instead, think of how the transformation should increase value and try to measure those drivers. Models like OKR and OGSM are very useful in defining your objectives and drivers to success.

If you cannot define the objectives that the transformation is supposed to realize, the transformation will become the objective in itself. And a wasteful one.