Evidence-Based Management (EBM) is a framework that helps people, teams and organizations make better-informed decisions to help them achieve their goals. If EBM is new to you, start by reading the EBM guide here: https://www.scrum.org/resources/evidence-based-management-guide. This article assumes that you have a basic understanding of EBM so please start with the guide if you do not.
Based on the data that I have, EBM is on an upward trend in its adoption in organizations. Here’s why: The growth of YouTube views on our EBM playlist has grown exponentially, we are teaching more EBM classes than ever, inquiries/inboxes about more information on EBM have increased, and our webinars/conference talks are always packed. So, to help those of you who are interested in EBM, I am ramping up content that will hopefully help.
A common question that I have been getting asked a lot is: “How do I get started with EBM?” Given that every complex situation is different, where you start with EBM very much depends upon the context of the situation that you find yourself in. Frustrating, yes I know. That is the complex domain of work; there are no best practices that tell you exactly what to do in a given context because every context is different.
What I have found, though, is that there are a few things that you can ask yourself that will help you in your journey with EBM. Here are three questions to consider:
EBM has three different levels of goals: strategic, intermediate, and immediate tactical. Each has a different level of abstraction. Learning how to craft good goals takes time. Understanding why you are doing what you're doing from a customer perspective will help you write better goals.
“Why are we doing what we are doing?” is a simple question on the surface but oftentimes difficult to answer. Keep asking that question until you arrive at an answer that relates to your customer (someone who uses the end result of your work).
Many of the goals I’ve observed, are written in a way that is about producing a thing (output this thing) or are about activities (is everybody busy). If the phrase “but our customer is internal” sounds like a familiar answer then this is definitely you.
As an example, I recently worked with a team that was producing data for an internal data analytics team. They viewed the data analytics team as their customer. All of their goals were structured around fulfilling the requested data that were to be consumed by that team. Then I began asking questions:
Question: “Who receives the end result of what the data analytics team creates”?
Answer: “The actuarial department”
Question: “Who receives the results of what the actuarial department creates?”
Answer: “The sales team”
Question: “Who receives the results of what sales create through actuarial, data analytics, and you?”
Answer: “A customer considering us versus a competitor”
That’s it! That is why they were creating the data: so that customers could have accurate information more quickly to determine whether they want their company over a competitor. That was the “Why” behind their current work.
Challenge yourself to discover where the work you are doing actually results in a customer consuming it. Your goals should be written towards a customer. Creating goals that have alignment with a customer is vital. When done well, they create alignment across an entire organization, inspire people, and enable better conversations around the future.
2. Where Are Your Energies Focused?
In EBM, you look at evidence that you are heading towards your goals through measurement. In EBM, look no further than the four Key Value Areas (KVAs) to begin discussion around measurement: Unrealized Value(UV), Current Value(CV), Time-to-Market(T2M), and Ability-to-Innovate(A2I). Together, the KVAs provide a holistic view of the progress you are making toward your goals. The KVAs consider both the market and delivery perspective.
What I have found, is that one of the KVAs tends to be in focus at any given moment. Here are questions that you can ask yourself under each KVA to understand if you are focused on it:
- Unrealized Value (UV) - Are we trying to get new customers? Are we building things that we think are going to generate new value?
- Current Value (CV) - Are we concentrating on our current customers? Are we trying to extract value out of things that we currently have?
- Time-to-Market (T2M) - Are we trying to build faster? Are we trying to release more quickly?
- Ability-to-Innovate (A2I) - Are we trying to become more effective? Are we process-focused?
Perhaps these questions won’t directly tell you where you might be focused but hopefully, they illuminate where time and attention is being spent. Focusing on one KVA is not a bad thing in the short term. Over time though, there could be consequences to the other KVAs if the focus doesn’t shift back to center.
As an example, consider what might happen if a company is focused on Time-to-Market (T2M) for an extensive period of time. Ability-to-Innovate (A2I) might be impacted as speed is often traded off with quality. Current Value (CV) might be negatively impacted by that lack of quality. Unrealized Value (UV) might be ignored as “fast” does not necessarily mean “valuable”. This is one example of many that could happen when you put a long-term focus on a single KVA.
Knowing where you are focused now is an excellent conversation enabler. Take the information that you find and initiate conversations with your team, management, and/or your organization. Are their long-term consequences you are experiencing because of this?
3. Are we in Reality?
Do you often hear: “but it feels like…” followed by anything that relates to internal activities or customers? A lot of what I hear in office environments is based on gut feelings rather than data. It's time to change the narrative.
Goals that relate to customer outcomes (bullet #1) and measurements that show us our progress (bullet #2) can be a substantial change in an organization.
Encourage teams and organizations to establish a culture of data-driven decision-making. Discuss how to collect and analyze relevant data to inform decisions related to product development, delivery, and overall business strategy. Explore tools and techniques for data visualization and interpretation.
This is where an EBM dashboard fits in. Figure out how you can make this new and better information about your goals and the KVAs transparent. Seek opportunities to share this new information. Continue the evolution of your board as you uncover the progress towards your goals. Revisit the information often and use it as a conversation starter.
Cautionary tale… people may not be used to this kind of transparency. Oftentimes, people prefer to live in their own narrative not considering what reality actually looks like. Be cautious with how and when you present this information. It may startle the wrong person.
There are many ways to get started with EBM. Don’t overthink it and try to have a perfect implementation out of the gate. You can simply start with the why, understanding where you are focused, or bringing reality to your situation. From there, evolve EBM to be a constant reality for your situation.
Learn more about me by checking out my profile: https://www.scrum.org/todd-miller