How to Define And Track Your Key Performance Indicators

How to Define And Track Your Key Performance Indicators
Last Updated: December 21, 2023

The primary tools for managing company success are key performance indicators (Roubtsova, 2013). Companies aim for expansion and profitability. You need to understand your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) thoroughly to navigate the changing business environment. This article will guide you through the process of defining, creating and monitoring your key performance indicators (KPIs) and offer insightful advice on how to improve organizational performance.


What are KPIs?


According to Investopedia, key performance indicators (KPIs) refer to a set of quantifiable measurements used to gauge a company's overall long-term performance. They are indicators that can be used in corporate strategy to measure, compare, and monitor work performance and processes. This enables you to quantify findings and make judgments based on actual information rather than intuition.


Related: Key Performance Indicators Dashboard: What You Need to Know

How to Define Your Organizational KPIs: A Step-by-step Guide



Defining KPIs can be challenging but not entirely impossible. KPIs differ between businesses and sectors based on performance standards. It is common to make mistakes in business metrics and KPIs. With that in mind, we have created a checklist for you to use when defining KPIs for your business.


Take a collaborative approach


Since what occurs in one process affects others, it is crucial to include the leaders of all processes in the definition of the key performance indicators. The idea is that each indicator should, if possible, add value to both the process and others. It is advised that you hold a workshop with all of the leaders in which you outline the goal of implementing the KPIs and how they will be defined. Next, you should let each leader work on defining their process. In the end, you should hold a review with all of the participants to get feedback on all of the indicators, either by adding indicators that are necessary or removing ones that don't add value. Starting with a small core team of stakeholders who are most knowledgeable about the objectives and accessible data is generally a smart idea.


Choose measures that directly contribute to each of your objectives


A strategic and important business goal that influences the company should be linked to every one of your KPIs. If you do not have an objective in mind, you run the risk of putting effort, money, time, and resources into tracking a useless KPI. What are the objectives of your company? Have you determined where significant areas need to be optimized or improved? Which tasks are most important to your management team? By providing answers to these questions, you'll get closer to determining which KPIs are best for your company.


Related: Example Key Performance Indicators

Make sure your measures meet the criteria for a good KPI


Your chosen KPIs should not only be accurate measures of performance but also have some additional characteristics that will indicate that they are effective. For any KPI you are thinking about, ask the following questions:


Can it be easily quantified?


A good KPI should be easy to measure, simple, and straightforward. A KPI needs to be measured in order to examine both positive and negative deviations from a target.


Do we have control over this KPI, or is it out of our control?


It should be within the managers' power to affect the performance that the key performance indicator measures. If this isn't the case, managers and employees may become discouraged, and the performance indicators can be seen as unjust.


Does this KPI support the overall strategy of the organization?


KPIs should always flow from an organization's overarching strategic objectives. A KPI that is not tied to the strategy is simply a vanity metric.


Is it simple to define and understand for everyone in the organization?


A key performance indicator needs to have a description that is both clear and understandable. Unclear descriptions may cause confusion and misunderstandings. Problems could also arise from definitions that are too narrow or wide.


Assign responsibility for each KPI to specific individuals


KPIs are a useful tool for tracking progress, but they are more likely to be effective if someone is accountable for making sure the KPI is achieved. Additionally, the responsible party is typically more likely to want the measure to succeed than to put up with poor performance. You can bet that even if the only thing the individual is accountable for is reporting on their KPI, they will still be motivated to report positive news over negative, as you might imagine. When it comes to the creation and upkeep of KPIs, there are numerous moving parts. Ensure that teams or people have been assigned precisely to the right duties. Accountability should be given to the evaluation, data collection and interpretation, monitoring, and presentation of KPIs.


Embrace SMART framework


According to NanoGlobals, SMART KPIs are crucial because they encourage managers and staff to stay clear of pointless measurements that have no bearing on the company's operations. Make sure your KPIs are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound when defining them. This guarantees that they are measurable, attainable, consistent with your objectives, and have a specified period for assessment.


Identify what information you already have


The tools, techniques, and data sources you will employ to gather, examine, and report on your KPIs should also be taken into account. Check to determine if the information is already being collected in the organization before setting your KPIs. If that's the case, you may easily collect data and report on this KPI. It would make no sense to create KPIs for which you cannot collect data.


Assess Progress and Readjust


As your organization evolves, KPIs will probably need to be modified. A KPI is merely noise if it fails to help you or other stakeholders in your company in making better decisions, which will enhance your company's success. As a result, you must continuously assess the KPIs you are using to ensure they are truly helpful and that you aren't wasting hours monitoring data or forcing your employees to do so to tick boxes. Therefore, tracking progress helps identify if the KPIs are still relevant and are still aligned with the business strategy.


Related: Metrics vs Key Performance Indicators

Frequency of tracking and reporting


Determine how frequently you should measure your KPIs. The characteristics of the data associated with a KPI, such as its frequency of acquisition, rate of change, and level of consistency, are critical considerations when designing KPIs. These features directly influence the way you define, calculate, and track your key performance indicators, ensuring they provide accurate and actionable insights. For instance, if a consumer purchases on a website, they may enter their degree of pleasure. On the other hand, the dashboard software may gather the data on a weekly basis according to a management-established timetable. Furthermore, managers' decision-making value for KPI status determines how frequently they measure it. For instance, decisions based on a KPI every month necessitate monitoring that happens every month or more frequently.


Visualizing data


In today's data-driven world, simply defining your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) isn't enough. You need to track them to gain actionable insights and drive strategic decision-making. And that's where powerful data visualization comes in. Visualizing your KPIs isn't just about creating pretty charts and graphs. It's about transforming raw data into a compelling story that reveals trends, identifies opportunities, and informs smart actions. Spreadsheets filled with lots of numbers can be really overwhelming and difficult to interpret. This is the reason why data visualization is highly recommended in KPI reporting. Visuals instantly communicate complex data in a way that numbers alone can't. They bypass our cognitive overload and allow us to grasp patterns and trends quickly.

Transforming raw KPI data into compelling visualizations is about taking those numbers and weaving them into a story that reveals trends, identifies opportunities, and inspires action. Below is a list of steps that are taken in order to bridge the gap between data and insight.


1. Data Collection

KPIs, in their nature, can live in various places, from Customer Relationship Management systems and marketing platforms to sales spreadsheets and financial reports. The key is ensuring data accuracy and consistency across these sources. Sources of KPI data can vary. However, the major classes are internal systems, external sources, manual data collection and data integration.


2. Data Preparation

Data cleaning and organizing involves identifying and removing irrelevant data. It also covers the process of correcting errors and formatting them consistently. During data preparation, it is important to be wary of outliers as they can distort the analysis. Depending on your KPIs, you might need to calculate ratios, percentages, or other derived metrics to tell the complete story.


3. Choosing the Right Visualization

Different visualizations excel at revealing different insights. Line graphs track trends, bar charts compare categories, scatter plots show relationships and heat maps highlight data distribution. There is, therefore, a need to select the appropriate type of visualization. Consider the technical expertise of your viewers and choose visuals that resonate with their level of understanding. A well-chosen visualization can make complex data understandable, highlight patterns and trends, and engage your audience. Conversely, a poorly chosen visualization can be confusing, misleading, and even detrimental to your message.


4. Building the Visualization

Numerous software options cater to different needs and skill sets. Popular choices include Google Data Studio, Tableau, Power BI, and even Excel for simpler visualizations. When building visualizations, apply design principles like clarity, consistency, and focus to create visually appealing and informative charts and graphs.


5. Telling the Story with Data

Data visualizations from KPI data are used to tell stories. It is important to provide clear titles and labels for your axes, legends, and data points to guide viewers through the information. There is a need to add context to your visualizations with brief explanations, annotations, or comparisons to historical data or industry benchmarks.

Data storytelling is important because it allows the narrator to put the data into the context of a broader objective and use tools such as visual aids to help break down the results so that the audience, regardless of their background, domain expertise, or technical sophistication, can easily understand them and their implications.

Data storytelling also helps to explain data to people of different learning styles and allows the narrator to craft the communication methods to the respective audience. For instance, an auditory learner may respond better to a spoken presentation, while a visual learner may require more data visualizations and other visual aids. In general, a good data story will include a combination of these various components so a diverse audience can stay engaged.


Related: A Guide for Developing Key Performance Indicators

Benchmarking against industry standards: Set realistic targets and track progress


KPI benchmarking plays a pivotal role in driving your team's performance. Benchmarking is the process of comparing your team's performance against relevant standards. These standards can be internal (past performance goals) or external (industry averages, competitor data). By understanding how you stack up, you can identify areas for improvement and set realistic, achievable goals. KPI benchmarking sets a clear target that provides a concrete objective to strive for.


Related: Key performance indicators by functional area

Common challenges and how to overcome them



Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is like navigating a maze: you need clear goals, a reliable map, and the agility to overcome obstacles. But common pitfalls like data quality, resource scarcity, and siloed information can turn the journey into a frustrating labyrinth.

Inaccurate or incomplete data, which leads to misleading conclusions, is one of the common challenges encountered when tracking KPIs. There is a need to implement data governance policies, automate data collection, and invest in data cleansing tools. Treat your data like a trusty map – only reliable information ensures a smooth journey.


KPIs for specific industries


In this section, we will look at example KPIs as per industry

Manufacturing: Production volume, on-time delivery rate, defect rate, asset utilization, and customer satisfaction are all crucial metrics for manufacturers. Think of them as the gears that keep the production machine running smoothly.

Retail: Conversion rate, average order value, customer acquisition cost, inventory turnover, and online sales growth are key indicators for retailers. Imagine them as the pulse of the store, revealing customer behavior and sales health.

Marketing: Website traffic, lead generation, conversion rates, social media engagement, and brand awareness are vital for marketing teams. Think of them as the compass guiding your marketing campaigns towards success.

Finance: Revenue growth, profit margin, customer lifetime value, debt-to-equity ratio, and cash flow are essential metrics for financial analysts. Picture them as the financial map, charting the course towards profitability.


Related: Key Performance Indicators For Human Resources: A Guide to HR Professionals


Emerging Technologies Reshaping the Landscape:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): Imagine AI as your data-whispering oracle, automatically identifying patterns, predicting trends, and suggesting optimal KPI adjustments. ML will personalize KPI dashboards and automate data analysis, freeing up your time for strategic decision-making.

  • Real-time Data and Analytics: Ditch the lagging reports and embrace real-time dashboards that pulse with your business's heartbeat. Monitor KPIs in real-time, react instantly to fluctuations, and optimize performance on the fly.

  • Predictive Analytics: Step into the future with predictive models that anticipate potential outcomes. AI will analyze your KPIs and historical data, forecasting future performance and highlighting potential pitfalls before they arise.

  • Internet of Things (IoT): Imagine sensors embedded in everything from production lines to customer devices, feeding you a constant stream of data. This real-time feedback will allow you to track granular KPIs and fine-tune performance at a micro-level.

KPI tracking is not a one-time feat but a continuous journey. By embracing these principles and remaining adaptable, you can transform your KPIs from mere metrics into powerful tools for navigating the complex landscape of business. Tracking Kpis can lead to the business being successful.

Chido Madzogo & Tiffany Maruva
This article was written by Chido Madzogo & a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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