The Measure of IT Success

By Eric Jackson

Measuring tape

I had my quarterly review recently and I’m happy to report that I’m not being fired … not yet, anyway.

Reflecting on the review led me to the curious realization that, while I made little progress on projects I’d identified as priorities, and spent a lot of time on things I hadn’t even named as goals, both my supervisor and I actually felt quite good about what I’d done over the quarter.

There were good reasons, largely outside my control, for lack of progress on the projects, so I don’t feel so bad about that part. What I found interesting was the feeling of accomplishment I had about things that didn’t produce deliverables and that weren’t even tasks – they were mostly just conversations.

I had conversations about how to think about the City’s strategic goals and how to measure and report on progress toward them. Conversations about how to get process out of the way of innovation. Conversations about introducing new process to ensure equity or effectiveness or security. Conversations about making other conversations more constructive. Conversations to celebrate the discovery of tools that enable our future and conversations about shedding infrastructure accretions from the past. Sometimes these conversations added to my list of tasks and projects, but just as often they simply cleared the way for others, forged connections between different efforts, clarified where we are going, or supported changes we are trying to make.

I have no doubt that the conversations were valuable, but they raise a question. In this department we pride ourselves on holding ourselves accountable, on identifying and openly sharing metrics that show how well (or how badly) we are doing at any given time. So how should I measure the impact of all these conversations?

The fact is that their impact, like the impact of much of what IT does, is best measured not by the number of tasks finished or even the percentage of customers satisfied, but by the extent to which we have empowered colleagues and citizens (and even ourselves) to do important things weren’t possible before or to improve on what they do already.

The best measure of our success is the success of those we serve.

Which sounds good, but how do you actually do it? Taking credit for the awesome work of the fire department or sustainability office is probably not the way to go.

In some cases, it’s relatively simple: we just tell the story of what we enabled or changed, or name our customer’s goal and tell how our effort contributed. Simple, but it may have implications for how we report on our progress.

But in a lot of the conversations I get to be in, the conversation is actually part of the process of figuring out what the goals are. In those cases, the best I’ve come up with so far is to name the themes as they emerge, document the conversations, and try to notice the point when we transition from exploration to an identified goal that we can begin to think how to measure.

I often write blog posts that assert something I’ve learned or figured out. This one is still mostly a question. I would love to hear others’ thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter (@ejaxon or @digitalsimplicity).

** How do you measure and report success when success is about what others achieve? **

** How do you track progress when progress is as much about identifying what to do as doing it? **

Photo Credit: The image above is measuring tape by Sarah Jordan.

Originally published April 27, 2017