Are KPIs software?

“Key Performance Indicators” are widely used in organisations as a measuring stick. Take some index which will show how well you’re doing, measure it, and use that to see how well you’re doing.

As a simple example, for most business managers, the profitability of their division is a key performance indicator. For safety managers, it could be the number of accidents.

Narrowing someone’s work to a single key performance indicator can be dangerous – in other words, people are so solely focussed on achieving it – perhaps they have been promised a bonus if they achieve it – that they don’t notice something else going on.

But perhaps most roles can be reduced to 2 or 3 key performance indicators. “We want you to be efficient, be safe, and not annoy the people around you.”

Now when it comes to expert work, these indicators can need careful design. You want people to focus on the indicators, and you want that to lead to the results you want. That’s hard.

For example, I have been talking to someone who believes that the best way to manage climate emissions is to monitor or control the amount of oil and gas production or import.

Perhaps what he’s really saying is, for the person in the hotseat of making sure a country’s emissions achieve the target trajectories the politicians have promised, one really good way to do it is count your fossil fuel import and production. If its going down, your emissions are going in the right direction.

That’s an easier KPI than actually measuing the carbon emission itself, he believes.

My point is – what if my friend is actually designing ‘software for experts’. He’s envisaging what the expert ‘dashboard’ is like. (The word dashboard conjures up ideas of a million screens and bits of data, which is not what people want either).

Perhaps that’s a really difficult task, worthy of our best thinkers – the real business analysts. I’m sure ‘user interface designers’ are great people, but somehow the term ‘user inteface’ doesn’t convey how hard and important it is to get it right?


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