Key performance indicators (KPIs)

I have been refining my thoughts and developing my thinking on KPIs over the last few years. In simplest terms, I think of KPIs as indicators of ‘whether we are winning or not’.

A good KPI should indicate, in no uncertain terms, whether our activities are helping us realise the results we are responsible for. It should be largely self explanatory. It should include clear visual communication clues and I like to present results as ‘% change’ compared to previous periods.

A KPI should clearly indicate whether performance has been good or bad. In order to understand this, KPIs should be presented in a context where current performance can be compared to past performance e.g. MoM and YoY. Ideally it should also be able to be compared against a benchmark (e.g. avg historical range) and a target (e.g. +10% YoY).

In order to be a key indicator, it should relate as directly as possible to primary business objectives. If my website was selling widgets online, website KPIs would relate to the volume of widgets sold, the conversion rate of visitors to site, and the volume of leads generated (as a precursor to a sale).

For bonus points, each indicator should have someone accountable for it, so that everyone knows where the buck stops. Each KPI should be consistently measured from an identifed source, with any additional calculations or formulas or assumptions easy to reference.

So, when tracking KPIs, at a minimum, I capture:

  • Name
  • Description (short)
  • Result
  • % change compared previous month
  • % change compared previous year
  • Commentary e.g. insight
  • Owner
  • Source

It could end up looking something like this in Excel

Monthly planning

I block out 2hrs in my calendar at the start of every month for a personal review and planning activity. It’s often tempting to skip this recurring appointment task, particular if my calendar is otherwise busy, but it’s always a worthwhile use of my time.

It’s a monthly activity specifically because it forces me to take a broader view of my work than the shorter weekly prioritisation activities, but not as broad as my semi-annual reviews.

In these monthly planning ‘meetings’ with myself, I answer a series of questions. As you will see, there are both reflective questions, and forward-looking planning questions

In the last month…

  • What have I achieved/progressed in my annual performance plan?
  • What have been the biggest highlights, wins, learnings for my team?

In the next month…

  • What will my team be delivering from our product roadmap?
  • What new knowledge or skill will I acquire/develop?
  • How can I develop my team?
  • What one thing can I work on/achieve that will make everything else better/easier going forward?

The last question always fills me with a bit of a thrill, if I can answer it. There is something incredibly inspiring and motivating in knowing that I am planning on working on something in the coming month that will deliver some kind of step change in how my team and/or I operates.

Recently for me, answers to this question have included introducing a new service management system, defining key performance indicators for my team, improving the way we communicate the prioritisation of our projects in our roadmap, and establishing regular check-ins with key stakeholders.

I recommend you try establishing a monthly planning habit.

Weekly 1:1

Do you have a short, sharp weekly check-in with each of your direct reports? I do, and I could not imagine managing others without doing something along these lines. What works for me is; keeping it regular e.g. weekly, following a consistent format i.e. a set structure, process, time, location, and making it a two-way conversation with both I and my direct reports bringing topics to discusss at the meeting.

Specifically, I like to use a Trello board for each of my direct reports to capture discussion topics in an easy format where both parties can prepare in advance, and track conversations over time. See this template –

Within that board, I like to keep a list containing both current priorities that we review each week, and longer term (e.g. annual) objectives that we look at periodically as part of each person’s ongoing development plan.

Whilst I don’t necessarily reference giving feedback as a formal part of the 1:1 structure, I do try to ensure that in each weekly discussion I provide feedback to them in some way, and solicit feedback from them about myself and my performance in my role. Normally I would do this as part of general conversation, or link it to a specific topic we are discussing.

The main benefits of regular 1:1 meetings is that it’s an opportunity to stay aligned with each other on the 3 P’s:

  1. priorities – what is the most important work we are doing
  2. progress – how are we progressing with this work
  3. performance – how are we both going in our roles, in relation to each other

More broadly, it’s also a good forum to gauge other indicators, like motivation, workload, and stress levels, answer any questions, and otherwise just build a healthy working relationship of trust and transparency with each other.

Beyond these practical management reasons, I’ve also found it be to be effective way to manage our time. Rather than a dozen short conversations or email/message threads spread through the week about various non-critical, non-urgent issues, a regular 1:1 provides a forum to discuss all these issues in a batched, focussed way. Batching small conversations together means that we free up more of our time during the week for focussed, deep work. Reserving the weeklyr 1:1 forum for any non-urgent conversations means we avoid distracting each other during the week unnecessarily.

Stand up schedule

One of the things I love about the scrum framework is that it’s easy to customise and adapt to your own needs and preferences. My department is made up of 3 functional teams and a couple of other functional leads. We had always had 1 daily standup that focussed on the updates from the single scrum team that operated across my department, but we also tried to incorporate each of the functional teams that weren’t otherwise directly involved in scrum activities. With 20+ team members, this quickly made for an impractical 15min daily standup – updates were either too detailed and so not understood by most attendees, or too broad/general/ambiguous and so not useful to anyone!

In 2020, the demands of our product roadmap required that we split into 2 scrum teams. This created further complexity in our standup requirements, but also offered an opportunity to overhaul our approach to standups altogether. Combined with the rapid move to distributed work practices that year (i.e. COVID-enforced WFH), I also needed a forum to regularly check in with the team and try to keep us all connected, aligned and motivated. And so, our new standup schedule was developed, implemented and still going strong 18mths later!

Note we use the same zoom link for all days and all standups, except for 1 of the functional teams that break into their own channel as needed

  • Monday
    • 9-9:15am. Informal chat (optional)
    • 9:15-9:30am. All hands – sharing top priority activity for the week
  • Tuesday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Wednesday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Thursday
    • 9-9:10am. Scrum team 1 only
    • 9:10-9:20am. Scrum team 2 only
    • 9:20-9:30am. Functional team check-ins
  • Friday
    • 9-9:15am. Informal chat (optional)
    • 9:15-9:30am. All hands – sharing top win / shout out for the week

Writing it out, it seems complex, but actually the model is pretty simple. Monday is for aligning around top priorities for the week. Friday is for celebrating the work we’ve done together.

I will generally use a few minutes Monday and Friday to share any overall comments or information for the entire team.

Starting again at 42

I am writing this post on the eve of my 42nd birthday. Given birthdays are an opportunity to reflect and celebrate, my intention in (re)starting this blog is to develop a system of reflection and learning on what I’ve done, where I’m going and how I’m going about things… in life generally, perhaps, but with a focus on my professional (work) life – I hope.

I don’t recommend you ‘like, comment and subscribe’, at least for now, as I don’t know if this will develop into a habit of substance, or be a short-lived experiment. I’m surprised you are even reading this now TBH. Perhaps go away for now, and come back in a few weeks to see if there is more to see. See you then?