In a previous blog titled “Outcomes Measurement and why its so important”, we defined what outcomes measurement is all about and its importance. Once you know this information, you need to be able to put this into practice and start your outcomes measurement journey. This blog offers nine practical questions you need to be asking if you are keen to implement an outcomes measurement process within your organisation. You might also be interested in reading SQI’s other blog on “How to engage in Outcomes Measurement” and SQI’s 4 part e-book series which talks in detail about 5 key steps to engaging in outcomes measurement which essentially encompasses these 9 key questions.
1. What is our goal?
Outcomes measurement starts with a clearly defined and concise goal. Setting goals seems like a straightforward task, but goals are often undervalued and sometimes misused. Goals are the foundation of outcomes measurement because they set a benchmark for expected performance. A goal should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Break your goals into manageable pieces and then continue to answer the following questions for each goal in your outcomes measurement system.
2. What strategies will we use to achieve our goal?
A goal is a statement of your expectations. In order to meet those expectations, you need to take action. Strategies are the actions you take to achieve your stated goal. Your strategies are hypotheses for your desired outcome. We assume we will achieve “X” if we do “Y” and “Z.” Doing “Y” and “Z” are the strategic actions you assume will move your organisation toward the intended outcome. Strategies are the variables in your outcomes measurement methodology that you can tweak, modify, and alter to achieve incremental gains in performance.
3. What metrics show success toward our goal?
With clearly defined goals and strategies that you assume will result in positive performance, you need to define the measures that prove your strategies are achieving your goals. Metrics are therefore the units of measurement that compare expected results (i.e. your goals) to actual performance.
4. What trends or information identify goal achievement?
A single metric isn’t enough to validate positive performance as it is only a snapshot of performance at a single point, and doesn’t capture performance over time. So, in order to validate that your strategies empirically contribute to positive performance, you need to identify trends in performance or consistent results over time. This is accomplished through analysis of the results of your metrics using statistical and mathematical methods.
5. What tools or resources will we use to measure performance?
So far, the above questions have helped you to define your goals, strategies, metrics, and trends, which lays the foundations for your outcomes measurement work. But, one question remaining is how will you actually measure those components? To answer this, you need to identify the tools and resources you will use to store data. You need to identify the quality controls that will keep your data clean and accurate. You also need to determine how you will display and report data via your metrics and trends. These tools and resources can take many shapes (e.g., customised outcomes measurement system, excel spreadsheets, paper-based forms), but it is important to define what those tools and resources are and how they will function.
6. What strategies worked and how do we know they worked?
There are two components to this question. The first part of this question, “what strategies worked,” involves a simple identification of the strategies that met or exceeded expectations. But, its the second part of this question that is the most important. How do we know they worked? What evidence proves the effectiveness of those strategies? Because the goal of outcomes measurement is continuous growth and improvement, you need to know why something worked, not just the fact that it worked, so you can make relevant changes.
7. What strategies didn’t work and how do we know they didn’t work?
Just as we want to know what strategies worked and how we know this, we also want to know about those strategies that were not as successful. You won’t succeed as expected on every goal you set and every strategy you employ. As a result, it is important to also identify what didn’t work. However, if you identify that a strategy didn’t work, you also need to understand why it didn’t work which is the most important part of the question.
8. What did we learn?
As outlined previously, the goal of outcomes measurement is to grow, learn and ultimately improve. So, once you learn what strategies worked and what didn’t, you can use this knowledge to improve performance over time. So essentially, you need to ask what insights were gained with a set goal, strategies focused on achieving that goal, metrics and trends measuring real performance, and analysis that proves whether the strategies worked or not?
9. What strategies should we change/improve and why should we change/improve them?
This final question brings the outcomes measurement process full circle. This is the question that helps you achieve the incremental gains that lead to large gains in performance over time. This question gives you the right information to take strategic action and make adjustments to your goals and strategies to improve performance.
While it is important to identify which strategies should be improved, it is also important to ensure you have evidence for why you should improve them. In this way you can make informed decisions on what to change and improve and how to change and improve it.
So, these nine questions can help to guide your outcomes measurement process, and when answered in succession, can ensure success for your organisation. Importantly, each set of answers to questions two through nine should relate to your stated goal, as defined in question one. As a result, if you have five goals you will answer each question for five separate goals.
You can then put your answers to these questions in a matrix as outlined below, and use the matrix as a worksheet for your outcomes measurement process. So, create ten rows and put each question in the far left hand column. Then list each goal in a separate column. Use this matrix to answer each question for each of your defined goals in your outcomes measurement process.