Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Possible Pitfalls in Comparing Performance Measures Across Programs

By Dennis D. McDonald

Tris Lumley’s Finding the Balance Between Standardization and Innovation discusses the conflict that sometimes occurs between a desire to standardize performance data and data related business processes across programs and a desire to create effective data access programs that reflect unique needs of individual programs.

On one hand, standardizing data practices across institutions makes it easier to share and compare. That’s usually good. On the other hand, standardizing “from the top down” without accounting for local differences can make it more difficult to represent performance of unique institutions or operations.

Lumley points out that the benefits of adopting a framework used by someone else can reduce cost and time-to-market; these are beneficial no matter what sector you’re working in. The trick is to learn from what others are doing and not to be stifled or misdirected. As I wrote in Forget “Best Practices.” Think “Best People” Instead one danger of “best practices” based baseline comparisons is that what you’re comparing might not actually be comparable, even when you’re looking at basic numbers like costs which tend to relate much better to output than to impact measures.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push for data standardization and comparing performance across organizations. I agree with Lumley that the benefits of such comparisons outweigh the risks. You do need to avoid adopting standards and processes developed by other organizations without first understanding how and why they were developed. That requires research, communication with the other organization, and thoughtful planning.

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Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a project management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. He has worked throughout the U.S. and in Europe, Egypt, and China. He’s currently working with Michael Kaplan PMP on developing SoftPMO project management services and with BaleFire Global and Socrata on implementing open data portals. His clients have included the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Bank, AIG, ASHP, General Electric, Ford Motor Company, and the National Library of Medicine. In addition to consulting company ownership and management his experience includes database publishing and data transformation, integration of large systems, corporate technology strategy, social media adoption, statistical research, and IT cost analysis. His web site is located at and his email address is On Twitter he is @ddmcd

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