Using Your Vector of Measures to Guide Action

in Measurement, Quality as a Business Strategy (QBS), Systems, Tools & Methods, Variation

By David M. Williams, Ph.D.

Figure. Vector of Measures Displayed in Shewhart Charts
Source: Mecklenburg EMS Agency, Charlotte, NC, USA

One of the toughest struggles for leaders is figuring out how to focus attention on the work that best serves the customer and will get the desired results. A great place to begin is your vector of measures. An organization’s vector of measures is a set of indicators linking your organizational purpose, core stakeholders, and key outcomes. Here are steps to take and questions to ask.

List the measures out by name so they are visible on a page. Review your measures and reflect on the following questions.

  • Does the list of measures fit on a page? An organization’s key measures should be a curated selection of meaningful measures. There is no set right number but ten measures is a healthy starting point. More may be appropriate but should be added deliberately.
  • How do the measures map back to the purpose statement? Is there a measure or two per key statement? 
  • Do the measures help you learn about key stakeholders of the organization? Stakeholders include customers, employees, partners, suppliers. How do the measures help you understand their current feelings about the organization or aid in predicting it in the future?
  • Do the measures support understanding of key products and services in the organization? Do they map to mainstay processes in the organization required to produce those products and services?
  • Are the measures defined as goals or judgment measures versus measures for understanding the behavior of the process? For example, a measure of cycle time collects the percent of encounters occurring less than the desired target (judgment measure: % compliance with the goal) versus the measure of the actual cycle time (average: 10 min 53 seconds).
  • Do you have an operational definition for each measure that describes the purpose of the measure, how it is collected and calculated, and how the data will be reported?

After reflecting on these questions, you may want to make some changes like adding or removing measures, clarifying operational definitions, switching from judgment to improvement measures, and likely recognizing an opportunity to do some more strategic thinking and planning in the near term. 

Now it’s time to look at your data. Here are some steps to collect, prepare, and display your data for learning.

  • Collect the most current 20-30 data points (subgroups) for each measure. Most measures are tracked by month. Quarterly is too infrequent. 
  • Display each measure over time in a time series chart like Shewhart charts. 
  • Is the measure stable? For each Shewhart chart, look for any special cause. If special cause is present, put in the queue for further investigation. If no special cause is present, put those measures in a separate queue to consider for improvement.
  • Unstable measures with a special cause. Prioritize these measures and resource staff to investigate the cause of the special causes and act on them as appropriate. Once stable (only common cause), the measures will be added to the stable measure list.
  • Stable measures (no special cause). For each measure, ask:
    • Is the performance of this measure where you want it to be?
    • What is your prediction for the performance of the measure if no changes to the existing process are made in the next 12 months? Will it stay the same? Get Better? Get worse? What about the 12 months after that?
    • How important to the organization is the improvement of this measure? Low, Medium, High?
    • If this measure changes, what other measures may be affected?

This review uses your organization’s vector of measures to guide action and focus attention. It helps leaders consider if the right measures are included. Collecting and displaying the data properly supports understanding the variation and deciding the best approach to act. Is immediate action necessary, what needs charted work to redesign (improve), and what is operating as desired and should be sustained? The review serves as one of many inputs to an annual planning process. 

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Associates in Process Improvement, Quality as a business strategy, Austin, TX: API-Austin, 2007