One thing that I’ve found in common across infrastructure and operations groups of all shapes and sizes is that they are continually searching for the ideal set of key performance indicators. A set of metrics that perfectly measures their infrastructure, demonstrates the excellence of their operations, but are still simple and cheap to collect. At least once a week I speak with a client searching for the holy grail of metrics, hopeful that I hold that coveted knowledge. They’re inevitably disappointed to find out that I don’t know what the best set of metrics is, and that I truly think that it doesn’t exist! Sorry if I’m bursting your bubble, but there is no essential set of metrics for all infrastructure and operations organizations. What makes sense for one organization to measure may be completely useless for another organization. What may be very simple to collect at one company is nearly impossible at another.

While I don’t believe in the myth of a single set of perfect metrics for all organizations, I do think it is valuable to learn from other organizations what they are measuring in order to compare them to your own metrics (and maybe steal some of theirs), which is why I am gathering a list of metrics from infrastructure and operations groups globally in order to form a database of metrics. Once we have a good number of metrics on this list, I will work to consolidate them down to the most commonly cited metrics and collect a benchmark on them. We’re calling this project “Forrester’s Consensus Metrics For Infrastructure & Operations” and I really hope you’ll consider contributing to it because we can’t do this without your input.

But how do you know when you have the right set of metrics? I have a few basic guidelines to help winnow down your list of metrics to just the essential few. Your metrics should all:

  • Be expressed as a numeric value (1, 2, 3 etc, NOT high, medium, low)
  • Contain a unit of measure, whether that is dollars, hours, TB, etc.
  • Be consistently measured by a single person or system, if possible
  • Be inexpensive to gather without expending too much time or effort
  • Be contextually relevant and linked to your overall strategy or objectives
  • Have little or no jargon so people outside of your team can understand it
  • Be essential for decisions, or ACTIONABLE!

I’ve seen several infrastructure and operations groups use the Balanced Scorecard methodology as a guiding framework for organizing their metrics to great success. The Balanced Scorecard is also a great tool for aligning strategic efforts within IT and in the business.

What are you measuring in your infrastructure and operations organization? What does your metrics program look like? I’d love to get your feedback both here and on the Forrester community.