Data Dashboards

A lag measure is the measurement of a result you are trying to achieve.  We call them lag measures because by the time you get the data the result has already happened, they are always lagging. . . . Lead measures are different; they foretell the result.  They have two primary characteristics.  First, a lead measure is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure will also change.  Second, a lead measure is influenceable; it can be directly influenced by the team.  That is, the team can make a lead measure happen without a significant dependence on another team. (pp. 64-65) #

In school terms, a lag measure is a state test score, or an end of year report card.  But a lead measure might be a habit or practice that you implement or work on throughout the year, taking score every now and again.  More on this in a minute.  The book specifically mentions schools and schooling, and I thought this was a good way to say it: #

For example, it’s easy for schoolteachers to measure the reading levels of students with a standardized test.  Often, they obsess over these lag measures.  However, it’s harder to come up with lead measures that predict how students will do on the text.  The school might hire tutors or reserve more time for uninterrupted reading.  In any case, the school is likely to do better if it tracks data on time spent reading or in tutoring (lead measures) rather than hope and pray that the reading scores (lag measures) will rise of their own accord. (p. 66) #

The tracking of lead measures is so important, the authors argue, because they’re how you move in a new direction.  Figure out what to observe, and the observation and tracking of it can change a course, or improve a result down the road.  That’s, again, pretty basic thinking, but it’s right, and the hard part is building the habits and the follow through to do that.  In fact, it’s so hard, that the authors argue that one of the four disciplines is to “keep a compelling scoreboard” of those lead measures so that folks can pay attention to their change process.  They phrase it this way: #

The third discipline is to make sure everyone knows the score at all times, so that they can tell whether or not they are winning. (p. 80) #

The scoreboard is a tool for engagement: #

Simply put, people disengage when they don’t know the score.  When they can see at a glance whether or not they are winning they become profoundly engaged. (p. 80) #

More important than having the scoreboard, though, is that the people playing the game1 need to be in charge of that scoreboard.  They need to be trusted to use it.  And the trust is sometimes hard to build from manager to employee, or teacher to student.  Or district person to school person: #

“So, how can I tell if they’re doing these things?” the manager asked. #

As I read about these measures, and started to think about what lead measures we might want to focus on, which is tricky, because we’re still, as a team, trying to determine our wildly important goal2, I realized that we don’t, in general, give our students much trust when it comes to how we ask them to pay attention to their learning. #

  1. A metaphor that might be a bit stressed here, but stay with me []
  2. “Do learning better,” isn’t terribly specific. Nor is my current favorite: “Learn more better.”  Teacher version: “Teach more better.” []