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How can you tell if your plan was a success?

You’ve described your problem, have a plan to solve it, and know the benefits of your solution. How will you know if your solution has been successful?

person using a calculator, there are some papers with graphs and charts on them

Metrics or KPIs are measurable things that let you see your progress towards your goals, and help you measure your results against your plan. They are a way of tracking the value your project or business is generating.

It’s important to measure outcomes, rather than activity. Activity just tells you that things are happening, but measuring outcomes show that things are changing as a result of that activity.

For instance, if you’re running a social media campaign to promote a new product, the successful outcome you want is more sales. Your metric should be the number of additional sales that the campaign creates. You can measure activity such as shares, follows and likes, but they are secondary indicators and don’t actually represent a successful outcome for your project.

It’s also important to set a baseline for metrics, to understand what a ‘normal’ measurement looks like, and to benchmark them to understand how your results compare with the rest of the business or your competitors. You can then see if your activity is having a positive or negative outcome.

Financial gain isn’t the only measure of success, and it’s a good idea to set targets using a ‘balanced scorecard’ approach to improve all aspects of your business. It’s common to look at four success factors:

  1. Financial
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Internal business process
  4. Learning and growth

A business that just measured financial success could start compromising other areas, which would be damaging to financial success in the longer term. For example, it might cut costs by making cheaper shoddy products that are less appealing to customers. This would save money in the short term, but over time would damage the company’s reputation, lose customers, reduce sales, and eventually damage the financial success of the company, negating the cost savings.

In Shona’s case, she can start to set her metrics by understanding the outcomes she wants from her project. When she was checking which solution was the best she prioritised her solutions against different outcomes:

  • Money raised: this is a simple quantitative financial measure, but an effective one.
  • PR value, for example social media mentions, or the number of articles in the local paper.
  • Value to the local community, measured using feedback forms, or surveys taken at the event.
  • How easy they were to do.

Deciding on a metric for each of those would give you a rounded view of how successful your project is against all your objectives.

Each metric would need a baseline, and a target set. Could you measure how happy the centre’s visitors were before the event, and then see if that average happiness had changed afterwards? Perhaps a 10% increase in happiness among attendees could be a good target.

If you systematically track your metrics throughout a project, at the end of it you will have hard data to demonstrate your success. This kind of empirical proof is very persuasive when you’re preparing your next project; it shows you can get results, and will help secure resources and support for future plans.

You can find out more about other uses of data to evaluate projects and to address performance in the accompanying course Evidence and Data Collection for Problem Solving.

Over to you:

Can you think of some metrics that would help you to measure whether you have been successful in what you set out to achieve?

Share your ideas with other learners in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Decision Making: How to Choose the Right Problem to Solve

University of Leeds