Today the pressure is on to measure and track our performance with KPIs, but it is important that we measure the right things. The following story is from 30 years ago but the message still applies.
I had only just joined the water agency in South Australia as a policy analyst, when a complete stranger turned up, not at my ofﬁce but at my home, and presented me with a dirty scrap of t-shirt material. “There!”, he said angrily, “that’s what happens when I put that under my tap. What are you going to do about it?” I was mystiﬁed how he knew where I worked, and even more mystiﬁed about what I was expected to do.
A month later there he was again, with another piece of muddy t-shirt. This time I decided to ﬁnd out from our water quality section just what was going on. It turned out that as most of our water comes from the River Murray and we are at the tail end of the river, there was a great deal of sediment that was carried along with the water. The practice at that time was to thoroughly ﬂush out the pipes once a month to keep the water at a good quality. After ﬂushing, the water was relatively clear and free of sediment, but for those few hours the water ﬂowed like gravy!
Now, the authority’s water statistics told the engineers that they provided relatively clear water 99.5% of the time, which was held to be a pretty good service. But anyone who put through a load of white washing at the time of the ﬂushing probably thought it an exceedingly poor service. Who was right?
After speaking with the water quality team about my visits from the t-shirt man, they decided that it would be a good thing to at least let people know about the ﬂushing program and when it was going to take place so that they could avoid using the taps at that time.
Later, they were able to ﬁnd ways of avoiding the ﬂushing problems and still provide a reasonably good quality of water.
But neither of these two actions were taken until the water quality team started thinking about the problem from the perspective of the user! The KPI’s told them they were doing a good job.
Your thoughts and experience? Are your KPIs giving you the right information?