How often should we measure performance?

Frequency of measurement is an issue that we often grapple with when evaluating and improving performance.  Today we will discuss how often we should collect and analyze performance data.  There is a trade-off to be made between the time and effort to collect data frequently, and the lack of knowledge and feedback that result when performance is evaluated infrequently.

Annual feedback discussions and annual performance appraisals are a good example.   Discussing performance on an annual basis is commonplace in business, but this approach is completely inadequate.  Here is an example to help you understand why this is true.

Suppose you are a naval aviator who flies off of an aircraft carrier for a living, and I am your squadron commander.  I call you in for your annual performance review and tell you “Friend, you have been coming in to land way too low for the last year.  In fact it is a miracle that you haven’t hit the end of the deck and killed yourself.  Please start coming in higher for the next year.  We will reevaluate your performance again in 12 months, if you live that long”.


Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?  The photo above shows the consequences of what is referred to in carrier aviation as a ramp strike.  What happens on an aircraft carrier is that each pilot is graded on each and every landing, and the pilot and the landing signal officer review a video of every landing together.  The grades for each pilot for each landing are posted on a chart in the squadron ready room known as a “Greenie Board”.  The pilots are all aware on a daily basis of how they are performing and what they need to do to improve.


You need to think like this in your business.  I should be able to walk into any department in your organization and see a display board that indicates how the department is performing on key metrics on an up to date basis.  If I can’t then you have an opportunity to improve.

Here is another example of performance feedback, from my work experience at a General Motors automobile assembly plant.  Every day at the start of each shift there were two numbers posted by the time clock, the scheduled production for the shift and the scheduled work hours for the shift.  For example, “502, 8.3”.  Everyone knew that the expectation for that shift was that we would produce 502 cars in 8.3 work hours.  A counter was updated once each minute with the planned production and the actual production at that point in time.  This information was visually displayed in numerous places throughput the plant so that everyone knew, right up to the minute, how the plant was operating.  The display board might show 284/282 which meant that the expectation up to that moment in the shift was 284 units and the actual number completed was 282 units.  People knew to the minute when the shift would end, and the communication was up-to-the-minute and effortless.

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at

About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 48 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to