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October 2013

Building a Business Case for Senior Management

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

Senior management, concerned about the expense of supporting first-class information development activities, asks you to measure the productivity of your organizations and make a business case for the value of your information products to your customers. In response, you may be tempted to throw together a list of things you can count: number of pages produced per year, number of pages produced per writer, number of customer complaints about documentation and number of complaints resolved, number of typographical errors found in documentation, and so on. The result is an awkward set of countable items, many of which have nothing to do with productivity and provide little evidence that customers find value in the information your team provides.

Developing a comprehensive program to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization requires a much more thoughtful approach, one that ensures that you are measuring only what you need to measure to ensure that you are meeting your goals. By following a process of goal setting, instituting innovative practices to support your processes and products, and analyzing the successes or failures, you can create a useful improvement program and report measurable, even quantifiable outcomes to your management.

Useful in defining what to measure and how to measure it is the process called Six Sigma, originally introduced at Motorola and now part of many managers’ tool kit. Six Sigma is based on a program in which you make small, incremental changes in pursuit of a performance and productivity goal. As each small change is implemented, you measure the success of the change and decide if you are going in the right direction. If the results are negative or not as robust as you had expected, you can use the incremental change process to adjust the implementation or pursue another course.

Information-development managers often begin to take process improvement seriously when they are questioned about the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations by senior management. Managers are often surprised to be asked to measure performance. They don’t know where to begin and often fall back on some aspect of operations that is easy to count. The danger of course is that you get what you measure. If you decide that you can easily count bug reports or stylistic errors in documentation, you are likely to get documents that are error free but provide little information of value to the users.

The questions that most managers should ask themselves are quite different from finding something that is easy to count. And, managers should never wait to be asked to begin a program to optimize efficiency and effectiveness. As a business savvy manager, optimizing performance should be one of your most important objectives.

Consider the questions about performance that you might ask:

  • Is my team as productive as it can be?
  • Are we more productive this year than last?
  • How long does it take to produce our information products?
  • How much does it cost us to produce each deliverable or set of information products?
  • If we add new tools and technology, will we reduce costs and increase efficiency?
  • If we change the way we architect our information, will customers be more or less satisfied?
  • How do we measure the effectiveness of the information we produce?
  • Are we providing customers with the value they expect from our information?
  • Are we decreasing or increasing costs in other parts of the organization?
  • Is the cost of our operation commensurate with the value produced for customers?

By pursuing answers to questions like these, you are on your way to running your operations in the same way other operations are measured and run in your organization.

Running an efficient organization is particularly satisfying to a manager who wants to be viewed as aligned with the goals of the larger organization. You will likely discover that your cost-reduction projects get the attention of senior management, at least until the next round of cost reductions begins. More importantly, however, is that developing and instituting efficiencies should give you time to be more effective in meeting the needs of your customers. If you can eliminate redundant or low-value activities, you will find more time for high-value activities that win customer support.

As you develop your process for optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations and measuring customer satisfaction, consider the following:

  • Determine the goals you want to achieve for your organization by analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Consider the improvements projects you need to put in place to reach your goals and improve efficiency and effectiveness of your operations.
  • Determine the measures you want to use to evaluate your progress toward meeting your goals.
  • Make incremental changes in your processes and measure the results.
  • Determine if you have made the progress you want. If not, make another set of incremental changes and measure again.
  • Continue to make changes and measure the results until you have reached your goals.
  • When you reach your goals, reset the goals or finding new ones to continue your progress toward an efficient and effective organization.

Once you start using measurements to promote the productivity and effectiveness of your organization, you will find that you have a common language you can use to communicate with senior managers. Without the language of measurements, information-development managers are often viewed as out of touch with the mainstream goals of the business and unable to communicate about their work in terms that senior managers understand. As you build your business acumen and become an effective middle manager, your knowledge of business measurements will be your most important and visible communication tool.

For more information about measuring productivity and promoting efficiency in your organization, reference the details in Information Development: Managing Your Projects, Portfolio, and People (John Wiley and Sons, 2006).CIDMIconNewsletter