A Recipe for Success Metrics

When you’re getting out that last minute proposal or responding to the 4:55pm ad-hoc report request, metric performance is not top of mind. As a result, thinking about success metrics, in light of all our other demands, can make us feel less than successful. Knowing that you need to implement or improve your success metrics can feel like a daunting task with all that is going on around you.

Having successful metrics is very similar to getting really good at a family recipe. It's not a one and done, but an iterative process that is made up of a series of small steps and adjustments (pivots) over time. I’m sure it sounds odd, but here are some things that metrics have in common with a great family recipe:

  • Outcomes vs. Metrics - It's about creating a great conversation and experience, not collecting and publishing numbers. A successful Thanksgiving recipe is the family discussion and memories that go on for years, not the knowledge of how many sticks of butter were used. 
  • Mistakes Happen - There’s always a Metrics or Report 2.0 (3.0 and 4.0 too), so recognize it's a process that will only improve over time.  
  • Context Matters - A one pot recipe to throw together after Tuesday night soccer practice is different than something for Christmas Eve dinner.  The same can be said about the daily update vs. an annual report.  Ultimately, the desired outcome is different, so even if the metric is the same; how its shared and communicated might be different.  Remember it's about “success metrics” not just metrics, so having success is an important part of the equation.

With Juice’s 10+ years of building metric dashboards and data products, the topic of success metrics comes up often. Getting started with metrics is similar to getting that family recipe just right. It will take time, but is worth the effort. As a follow up to our 2006 blog post on success metrics, and a recent post, Goals and Metrics like Chocolate and Peanut Butter, here’s our recipe for successful success metrics:

The Recipe for Successful Success Metrics

Follow a Recipe

When getting started or having limited time, use a recipe. Minimize risks and give yourself the greatest chance of success. People will use your metrics 1.0, so give yourself the best chance of success. Use someone’s else’s metrics (recipe) to benefit from their mistakes, etc. It may not be the best fit for your organization, but work through the process of collecting, transforming and aggregating the data, which will be challenging in its own right. As time goes on you’ll improvise, be more creative and generate your own version of the recipe.

Once you have mastered a technique, you hardly need look at a recipe again
and can take off on your own. Julia Child

Use a mix

In metrics 1.0, it's not cheating to use the pre-packaged metrics that you get bundled with your transaction system or anything you get for free. While using vanity metrics is a big no-no, using the pre-packaged metrics (think cake mix), will teach you about the effort involved and the nature of the conversations your audience wants to have. In future iterations you’ll refine your metrics, the calculations, etc. to get them to where you want, but at the outset create something you can easily share with others.   

Fewer Ingredients 

In the spirit of getting something done and sharing your masterpiece, start with something simple. Just like a simple recipe has fewer ingredients, start with fewer metrics. Sure there’s a lot of information, but start with three or four. Use composite metrics (see below) if needed. You’ll certainly have a few dimensions (categories), like date, type, etc., so think 8-10 columns at most. Fewer ingredients (metrics) gives you a chance to be successful and probably more likely to get feedback.

See the two examples below to give you a comparison. It's really hard to have a fruitful conversation about the 1st one with all that information. Start with a few numbers and grow into more complex recipes.

Crowded Dashboard (not a 1.0 recipe)


What a 1.0 set of metrics might look like.


Use your hands

One of the biggest challenges we run into at Juice is that people aren’t as familiar with their data as they should be. They’re not sure where the data comes from, how the calculation works or what they hope to accomplish with all their metrics. Well before you buy the  KitchenAid Pro Line get in there and use your hands. See how the ingredients mix, get a feel for the texture, etc. You’ll need this experience to explain what you’ve prepared, but also to address proposed changes for your 2.0 metrics.

It's so beautifully arranged that you know someone's fingers
have been all over it. Julia Child

Pinch of Experience

Having access to an expert, like Avinash in the web analytics space, is great to offer ideas on metrics as well as learn from their experience, much like a chef. Find your industry expert and leverage their content. In addition to our posts on metrics, I like this post a lot about getting started with metrics.

Combine Ingredients (Composite metric)

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you might need a composite or calculated metric. Don’t start with QBR, save that level of complexity for later. A starting point might be a metric involving simple arithmetic from two columns like Calls per Day or Proposals per Week. Consider these calculated metrics if they’re easy and will improve conversations with your audience.   


Ultimately, success is dictated not by your metrics or the beauty of your dashboard (meal), but the conversation that arises from it. My own memories of successful family recipes are filled with thoughtful discussions, sage advice from my elders and anticipation of the next family gathering. Focus your beginning metrics efforts on similar outcomes. Make sure your audience shares this goal as well.


Ready for Metrics 2.0?  Check out Zach’s post from a few months ago, Goals and Metrics like Chocolate and Peanut Butter. Need even more? Head over to the Juice resource page to check out the free content there for more insight on designing information experiences and getting your charts and everything else just right.