Most people reading this will be well aware of the SMART planning acronyn which has been drummed into us over the years. It insists that objectives or outcomes should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this advice if we see it as a general principle for our overall approach to outcomes - ultimately measurement is really important.

However in my view it is a mistake to insist that we should let measurement limit our thinking at the point when we first start trying to identify our outcomes. I know that this is a heresy of sorts, but why do I want to downplay focusing on measurement at the start of the planning process?

The outcomes we identify should be our statement of what we are trying to achieve. Working out what these are should not be constrained by whether or not we happen to be able to measure them at the current time.

If we insist on our outcomes always being measurable from the very beginning of our strategic thinking process, we have no way of thinking about, representing and discussing outcomes that we cannot currently measure.  

Thinking more deeply about measurement, we need to realize that measurement costs money. It requires that infrastructure has been put in place, protocols developed and people employed to collect and analyze the data. 

By definition, measurement will be most intense in those areas which we have focused on in the past. But most of us these days are wanting to be innovative whether we are working in the public or private sectors. It is likely that we will be thinking about new ways of formulating or combining outcomes, and identifying at least some new steps in the processes we think need to happen to achieve our outcomes. 

Therefore we want to use a planning methodology which encourages us to ‘think out of the box’ when we are initially identifying our outcomes. Once we have identified our outcomes plus the steps leading to them we can, of course, move onto looking at the question of measurement. 

What is a good tool for making sure we use an outcomes first - measurement second approach in our planning? One way of doing this is using the DoView Planning approach. In this we first draw a visual model of the outcomes we’re trying to achieve and only then, once we’ve drawn the model, do we go through it, look at each box and ask the question: ‘can we measure this’?

It may be the case that we need to develop some new measurement infrastructure in order to measure a new outcome or one of the steps we believe leads to that outcome. If that is the case then so be it. It is much better to approach it in this way than to have never been allowed to think about the outcome because it was something that up until now we have not been able to measure.

This way of working makes sure we’re not locked into a set of outcomes that are defined by the measurement legacy and infrastructure we happen  to have in place. 

You can see a very simple example of working in this way in Diagram 2 here. I will be posting other examples up on this blog in the future.

Paul Duignan, PhD, follow on; contact me here. Discuss this post in the Linkedin DoView Community of Practice.

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