Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Find the Right Metric: The NYPD and Prostitution

Looking at the wrong thing to achieve goals is more dangerous than having no goals.  When picking KPIs for executive dashboards, it's critical that we choose wisely, and that we're prepared to change.

So often, once dashboards are created, they seem to be set in stone.  When an executive says a metric is important, it is sometimes difficult to speak up against them and say that perhaps we're looking at the wrong thing.   If we're somewhat flexible on what we see, and we're willing to change in the future, it provides a safe place where mistakes can be made.  

The New York Police Department will often search suspected hookers to see if they are carrying an abnormal amount of condoms.  If they are, they use that as proof against the suspect that they are a sex worker.  Although this seems to satisfy the metric that prostitutes be arrested and off the street, it ignores the bigger goals of public health and safety.  It incentives women to not carry protection, thus spreading disease and sickness through the population.

The NYPD is looking at the wrong metric.  I suppose this is the risk when you use law enforcement to work on what is probably a primarily public health problem.

If call centers look at average call time, and they want the number as low as possible, because that means they are saving money, they might be looking at the wrong metric.  It might be incentivizing rude customer service, abruptness, and poor call etiquette.  Measuring customer satisfaction or absolute resolution time might be a better number to look at.  Perhaps low calls into the center will emphasis the quality of the product you're selling and how easy it is to use.

But mistakes will always be made when selecting metrics and KPIs.  The trick is to make sure that the technology and the business are both able to quickly and effectively change it when the mistake is realized.

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