January 31, 2013
This entry is one in a series of Top 10 lessons learned by Ron Potter in his previous job as the Director of Capacity Planning at a Fortune 100 health insurance provider.
The Problem with Metrics...
Metrics are our life. We couldn’t perform the work we do without them. The problem is many of the metrics we use are abstract numbers so when we go to present results, we encounter resistance or indifference. Business people don’t understand (or care) about technical metrics they can’t visualize. We can’t take our business leaders down to the computer room and show them a MIP, Quanta or RPerf on the floor. We can’t easily show them in layman’s terms what amount of work is performed by a single MIP. We can’t unplug an Ethernet cable and show them a packet nor show them how many pour out of the end across a given point in time.
I can remember one budget meeting in early December. I was explaining the contents of our proposed capital outlay plan for the ensuing year to the CFO. I mentioned MIPs of capacity, BPS of network bandwidth and megabytes of memory and storage. After I finished, the CFO said “You forgot the partridge in a pear tree.”) At that point it was clear that he did not have a clue as to the importance of those metrics on day-to-day operations of the business. I realized we must change the way we presented technical information to the business.
Since that time, I and my teams have developed ways to help executives visualize IT concepts. For networking, we commonly use picture of multi-lane divided highways with cars representing packets. I have also used examples of the engineering of municipal water and sewer systems to relate to IT infrastructure. Everyone understands those concepts and their past experience with those real-life subjects helps put pictures in their mind. For server-based concepts, we generally slice and dice the data to reflect use per business piece of work, such as cutting a sales order or shipping an average order. I’m sure you can think of many other ways to portray IT infrastructure usage in common terms that your business leaders can easily understand.
The more we can help our decision-makers visualize the work that is performed by our systems and the value of funding future needs to sustain it, the easier it is for them to feel comfortable that their money is well spent and communicate the message to the stockholders. By going the extra mile with our metrics, we build confidence in our work and facilitate reporting and decision-making processes.
Until the next post…