Tag Archives: targets


The perils of impossible target setting – a true story

Some time ago, in a meeting we were looking at some RAG (Red, Amber, Green) style reporting that measured the data quality of input into one of our systems.  I can’t be more specific, or I’d have to kill you all.

The report we were observing had thresholds set for each of the coloured indicators.  The report ran green for zero errors, amber for between 1 and 20, and red for anything over 20.  That’s fine.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The only thing was, upon looking at the reports, the measure had been red for the past twelve months reported on, and was nowhere near getting close to amber, let alone green.  When asked about whether it would be possible at this moment to ever get to green, the person responsible for the reporting and analysis simply exclaimed “No”.  The report was based on the analysis of tens of thousands of entries, of which there were generally always about 5% containing some kind of error at any time (that’s over 500 errors each month – nowhere near 20).  This is the way it had always been, and would likely be for the near future.

This got me thinking.. If it isn’t possible to ever get to green at this moment in time, or even amber, then why have them in the report in the first place?  Red indicates bad, yes, that’s a given.  But what if bad is never going to get better?

Here’s my suggestion.  Find an acceptable level of good (or even great) which will work for the short to medium term and set that to green.   If you are always hitting 5% errors, then set green for 3.5%, amber for 4% and red for 5% and above, or something to that effect.  You should ideally do some analysis to look at how the figures vary and set your new thresholds to something sensible and realistic.  This way you aren’t expecting the impossible from your team, rather you are setting them a goal which might actually be achievable.  If, and only if you ever get to the point that staff are consistently hitting green, you then might want to think about adjusting your thresholds accordingly and maybe, maybe, at some point you might get close to your initial thresholds.  If, on the other hand, you keep them as they are, your staff will ignore the results of the report because “we never get anything but red, so why bother”?  Using the current situation/context as a baseline for target setting will make it much more likely that over time the number of amber and red figures will reduce and your figures will hopefully start to look much more healthy.

Also, ensuring that red does actually mean bad based on your current thresholds means that you can put measures in place to prevent bad from happening next month.  If it is always red, what actions will you ever put in place to see some kind of noticeable improvement?  None.  I know.  I’ve seen it happen.  Momentum always seems to be lost when you are continually fighting a losing battle.  Provide an opportunity to win and you will more likely see positive results.

I didn’t speak up about it in the meeting, but others did, and the reporting team said they would look into it.

Let’s hope common sense prevails.