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Two techniques to help define organisational success and help you avoid drowning in data

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Businessman giving thumbs up
Defining success

I was fascinated to read that the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is apparently using a specially defined dashboard on his iPad to keep track of real-time insight into what is happening in the UK.  Although we’re left to imagine exactly what is on the dashboard, reports speculate that it aggregates data from a number of public sources including Google, Twitter and Facebook.  Perhaps the prime minister is using this to keep track of political topics within the blogosphere, so that he can stay on top of likely public priorities.


Ascribing meaning to large amounts of structured, semi-structured and completely un-structured data is a challenge, and it would be extremely interesting to know what kind of underlying analytical capabilities are being used to serve up the Prime Ministers dashboard.  If it is wading through a myriad of social networks for key words, it’s likely to need quite some analytical muscle indeed!  With such a large and expanding data-set, and so many potential dimensions that could be explored, analysing and making the link between patterns and cause/effect must be difficult.


This got me thinking about metrics and indicators that are useful for business.  A real challenge for organisations of all sizes – especially small and mid-size – can be how to measure success.  If you read my blog regularly, you may remember that I’ve written previously on how measuring the wrong thing can lead to unexpected outcomes.  As organisations grow, so many data-sets might be available for analysis – how should an organisation decide which data to focus on?  How can an organisation see “the wood for the trees”?  There are two readily available, free and straightforward techniques that can really help:


Know where you’re heading: VMOST

The words “Mission” and “Strategy” are often seen as a soft, fluffy intangible thing that people in ivory towers talk about.  But if an organisation doesn’t have a clear view of where it is going, how can it measure its progress?  Without a clear destination, and a defined set of objectives, measurement becomes extremely difficult.


An excellent technique for eliciting, analysing and documenting an organisation’s goals is “VMOST”.  This acronym stands for:

  • Vision:  What does the organisation aspire to?
  • Mission:  What direction is the organisation taking?
  • Objectives:  What are the organisation’s goals?
  • Strategy:  How, in the medium and longer term, will the organisation achieve its objectives?
  • Tactics:  In the short term, how will the strategy be delivered?


Spending a couple of hours brainstorming can yield very useful results, and can help ensure there’s a clear and shared purpose.  This technique can be used even if your organisation already has a clear view of its destination.  Sometimes a review and a fresh perspective will uncover new ideas.


Measure business success: CSFs and KPIs

Having established (or revisited) the vision, mission, objectives and tactics for your organisation, it’s possible to define critical success factors (CSFs) and key performance indicators (KPIs).  There are many ways of achieving this and a particularly effective way is shown below:


1.   Take each objective: ask “What must be true in order for this objective to be met?”  Define some broad-brush statements.  These needn’t be directly measurable, they can be somewhat open-ended and qualitative.  These will be the critical success factors (CSFs).  Each objective is likely to have multiple CSFs, and it’s possible that a single CSF might be related to several objectives:

Example Critical Success Factor: “World-class customer service”

2.  Once you have a set of CSFs, take each in turn and say “What would I measure in order to know if that CSF has been met?”  Initially, focus on defining the indicator not the absolute measurement.  Using an analogy, if you are driving a car, you know you’ll need to check the car’s speedometer to check the speed.  Which instrument(s) do you need to look at to measure the organisation’s progress towards each CSF?

Example Key Performance Indicators for a CSF of “World-class customer service” might include: “Customer satisfaction survey results”, “Net Promoter Score (customers who recommend us to their friends)”, Etc.


Once you have defined the VMOST and the CSFs/KPIs, you have a much better idea of what indicators should be on your management dashboard.  You can benchmark your current organisation, and start to see how you are progressing towards success. Then you can set specific, granular goals for improvement, perhaps using SMART or PECSAW.


These simple and effective techniques might not sound “on-trend” and might not embrace any of the current corporate buzzwords, but they are simple, elegant and help to achieve clarity!


I hope that you’ve found this article useful.  If you need any more information about setting organisational goals—or if you’d like to discuss this article further—please leave a comment below or contact me directly.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet

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2 thoughts on “Two techniques to help define organisational success and help you avoid drowning in data”

  1. Pingback: The deceptively difficult question: “What business are we in” | Adrian Reed's blog

  2. Pingback: Turbulence and Data - The MSP Hub

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