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Directly Measurable Strategic Objectives for Cyberspace

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By John O’Brien
July 9, 2018

A previous PA Times Online article (Oct 3, 2017: “Thinking Strategically in the Cyber Domain”) described strategic goals in cyberspace organizations as the first line of implementation toward the cyber organization’s mission, while strategic objectives provide greater specificity on whether the goal is being achieved. Having strategic objectives that are directly measurable is key—objectives musty show the outcome measure the organization is working to achieve. However, directly measurable cyberspace strategic objectives are few and far between.

Measuring in Cyberspace Organizations

Federal initiatives to measure public-sector performance include the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, which specifies that organizations develop a strategic plan linking an organization’s mission to strategic goals and objectives that are outcome-based evidence of demonstrated results and the Program Assessment Rating Tool, a Bush-administration initiative to measure the effectiveness of federal programs. These initiatives differ in their approach to measuring performance yet both contain a common element: directly measurable strategic objectives that demonstrate results.

Federal agency cyber organizations frequently utilize objectives and measures based on more traditional information technology services, which may not address strategic-level organizational issues, frequently focusing on information management and traditional back-office information technology. Cyberspace often struggles with outcome-oriented, directly measureable strategic objectives can demonstrate results to senior leadership.

For example, the following objectives are typical of the type found in a federal cyberspace organization but not directly measurable:

  • Improve information sharing to users across the enterprise.
  • Strengthen the cyber workforce by leveraging agility, diversity, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and innovation.

At first glance, both objectives read well. However, the problem becomes apparent when the strategic planning team begins to draft performance measures for the objectives.

Consider strategic objective #1. What, exactly, does “Improve Information Sharing” mean? More timely information? More detailed information? Perhaps it means easier access to the information? It could also mean easier collaboration of the information among users.

Consider strategic objective #2. What does the term “Strengthen the Cyber Workforce” actually mean? Would there be performance measures for each of those six modifiers: agility, diversity, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and innovation? What exactly is this strategic objective supposed to achieve and how would anyone measure it?

The point is, unless a strategic objective is written in a manner that is directly measurable, it is difficult to understand what the organization is ultimately working to achieve. In both objectives cited above, the challenge for the reader is to put a finger on the specific performance measure. Again, the objectives are not directly measurable.

Writing Directly Measurable Objectives

Strategic objectives should provide greater specificity, be close-ended (i.e. have an achievement date), be outcome oriented and directly measurable. Here is a suggested technique for writing strategic objectives that are directly measurable. A well-written directly measurable strategic objective contains four parts:

  • Begin each strategic objective with an action word: a verb that indicates some sort of direction of change (e.g., increase, decrease)
  • Follow that with a lag Performance Measure
  • Identify the target to be achieved (the specific amount of change desired)
  • Include a target date by which change is expect to be achieved

This technique for writing directly measurable strategic objective is illustrated in Figure One:

Two examples that follow the technique for directly measurable strategic objectives.

  • Reduce the number of transportation-related deaths to 1 in 10 million travel miles by Sept 30, 2020.
  • Reduce logistics response time to 72 hours by FY 2021, 4th

Both objectives begin with a verb that indicates direction of change (in this example, both are decreasing something), followed by clear measures of performance (that something that is decreasing is “number of transportation-related deaths” and “logistics response time”).  Each objective concludes with a target metric that clearly shows the amount of change desired (1 in 10 million deaths and 72 hours) as well as a target date by which change is expect to be achieved.

Directly Measurable Objectives for Cyberspace Organizations

How could the two examples cited above be rewritten to make them directly? Here’s a suggested approach for strategic objective #1:

Objective as originally written:  Improve information sharing to users across the enterprise.

Objective written as directly measureable:  Increase the integration of cyber capabilities to 100% of extended mission partners by FY 2020

 

The second strategic objective is more problematic. Those six modifiers (agility, diversity, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and innovation) are proving to be difficult. In order to measure this objective, one would need more guidance from senior leadership. Assuming one did that, here’s a suggested approach for strategic objective #2:

Objective as originally written:  Strengthen the cyber workforce by leveraging agility, diversity, adaptability, flexibility, collaboration and innovation

Objective written as directly measureable:  Increase the number of annual hours of professional education per cyberspace workforce member to 40 by FY 2021

 

Directly measurable strategic objectives are one key factor in the development of a robust performance management system for public sector cyberspace organizations. This article introduced a technique for writing directly measurable strategic objectives which may prove useful to readers.

John O’Brien is an Associate Professor in the Information Strategies Department of the College of Information and Cyberspace (CIS). His areas of interest are strategic planning, performance management and public sector ethics. John is a Ph. D candidate in Public Administration through the Center for Public Administration and Policy of Virginia Tech. 

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