Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

Have you ever tried to drive in white-out conditions? I remember driving to Reno once, and the falling snow was so blinding, the only thing I could see were the red tail lights of the semi-trailer truck in front of me. If that truck had gone over the side of the mountain, I would have followed right behind. We all know it’s important to be clear about your objectives and goals; however, it’s also important to be clear about your progress. To clearly define your key performance indicators (KPIs) you need operational definitions.

Operational definitions are about means as opposed to ends; they’re used to clarify key performance indicators, which are used to gauge progress. A strategic vision is a desired strategic outcome, and it’s good to have a clear vision, but you also need to know whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. I just wrote an article for TechRepublic on how to define Big Data to build a competitive advantage. In it I dissect what it means to be strategically competitive, and overlay that with how Big Data can foster those objectives. In going through this exercise, I help you realize that competitive Big Data must be valuable to one of your target markets. That’s all fine and good, but how can you tell if your Big Data is valuable? To properly answer this question, you must create an operational definition.

The key to creating an operational definition is to be precise. Operational definitions come from the world of Total Quality Management, and they’re a required component in any Six Sigma project. As a Black Belt, when I’m building the data collection plan for a Six Sigma project, I spend a considerable amount of time precisely defining what each measurement means. The result is a set of operational definitions that are used to collect, analyze, and monitor the metrics that are critical to quality (CTQ). The same must be done for your important efforts.

When building an operational definition, consider the acronym ACT: accuracy, completeness, and time. An operational definition will usually fall into one of these three categories. Accuracy deals with how closely your measurement comes to a desired target. This is extremely common; in our Big Data example, you may consider creating a value index that’s based on customer feedback. Completeness deals with coverage. An example is testing software, where you want to measure how much of the code has been tested. Since time is such a common measurement, it has its own category. And, since time is on a continuum, operational definitions that deal with time always have an upper and a lower bound.

Knowing where you’re going is great, but knowing you’re headed in the right direction is just as important. Don’t run your strategy in white-out conditions, you might head over a cliff.

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