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Find the Metric That Matters

Lessons from professional golf tell the story of how unconventional metrics can better fit your organization.

Key performance indicators, stats, metrics – whatever you want to call them – play an integral role in measuring performance. Whether you’re tasked with monitoring an equipment maintenance program, running an e-commerce business, or trying to determine whom to elect to the Baseball Hall of Fame, you need to have a set of standardized data points in order to quickly evaluate performance. Here at Boulevard, we're regularly assisting organizations by improving their internal business intelligence capabilities and providing them with dashboards and tools that help them gain better visibility into historical and current performance, diagnose issues, and forecast potential risks. Supervisors frequently have key metrics that they are tracking, such as average repair turnaround time for the manager of a repairs program. However, often these metrics are just thought of as contractual requirements, standard figures that are recorded without considering whether there might be more value from looking at the data in a slightly different manner. In fact, proper business intelligence and analytics improvement efforts first require a look at the underlying data processes to first make sure that you're capturing information completely and accurately, and a creative approach at modeling and visualizing the data in a way that best encapsulates valuable metrics to the organization.

Analytics Can Lag Behind Technology

Consider golf - while the sport's equipment technology has rapidly progressed over the last twenty-five years allowing players to hit shots farther, more consistently, and with better optimized flight conditions, it wasn't until recently that modern golf analytics caught up. Throughout the history of professional golf, simple statistics have traditionally been tracked: including the number and percentage of fairways and greens hit in regulation, and total number of putts. But while those metrics have some value - it's certainly better to hit more greens in regulation and fewer putts - those stats don't tell the full underlying story. Consider the following scenario: Stepping to the tee on a 400 yard par 4, would you rather hit a drive that goes 220 yards right down the middle of the fairway or a 320 yard drive that misses the fairway by a couple yards? The traditional stats would place more value on the made fairway hit, as fairways hit are a binary metric, but intuitively the longer drive is a better one. So how did golf evolve beyond simple stats and heuristics to incorporate metrics that are both measurable and meaningful?

Better Data = Better Metrics

At Boulevard, we often discover that when organizations are struggling with defining and tracking metrics, there are often underlying data issues - insufficient, mislabeled or error-prone data, or perhaps, large amounts of data without the proper organization and processes to understand the value of such information. In golf, the PGA Tour was no different. In 2003, the PGA Tour introduced ShotLink technology which uses a system of lasers to track every single shot hit at PGA Tour events. By 2007, the tour had gathered large quantities of shot-level data, but was still trying to figure out how to turn that data into knowledge. So the tour turned to Mark Broadie, a business professor at Columbia University and an avid golfer, whose prior research had mostly focused on option pricing and derivatives, but who saw the potential for similar mathematical analyses applied to golf data as well. In the research that followed, Broadie would end up revolutionizing golf statistics with his new metric, "strokes gained." For each shot hit, Broadie calculated a tour average outcome for that particular interval (day, tournament, year, etc.) thus making it possible to compare individual performance against the field of players and differentiate which facets of the game was most pivotal to success. One of golf's classic sayings is "drive for show, putt for dough," the idea being that you can hit the ball long off the tee but you can't win if you can't make the putts on the green down the stretch. With the insight of the "strokes gained" metric that idea has been turned upside down. Sure, the outcome of a tournament may come down to a made or missed putt on the 72nd hole, but over the course of the tournament, the shots that put those players in the position to win are their long drives and accurate approach shots; Broadie calculated that about two-thirds of the strokes gained of the best players were related to shots outside 100 yards.

Changing Behavior with Better Visibility

With the publication of Broadie's 2014 book, "Every Shot Counts", and wide adoption of strokes gained metrics by the PGA Tour, all golfers had another way to better understand his/her game and how best to concentrate their practice to improve faster. On the PGA Tour, Bryson Dechambeau has attracted significant media attention over the last 18 months by turning to aggressive weightlifting and speed training to increase his distance and improve his results. He went from 24th on tour in strokes gained off-the-tee in 2019 to 1st for 2020 and 2021, currently gaining an average of 1.13 strokes per round off-the-tee, nearly 0.3 strokes better than the next best player, Jon Rahm, and, more importantly, used the strategy to capture his first major championship at last year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It's not just for the professionals. Companies such as Arccos Golf have launched sensors for golf clubs that automatically record your shots throughout your rounds and pair it with a mobile application that quickly provides strokes gained figures for you relative to a selected target skill level. For people like me - data hungry golf enthusiasts - when you're playing well it adds to the entertainment - one day my drives were just "good" but equivalent to a +2 handicap - and provides you insight as to how to improve when you're struggling, e.g. you lost 1.9 strokes on putts less than 15 feet, maybe it's time to do some short putting drills.

So now, whether you're out on the golf course or in the boardroom, take a moment to stop and think about why you're tracking the statistics that you're tracking. If the value of that metric isn't immediately clear, then perhaps it’s worth reexamining the data and selecting new indicators to fit the factors that are really determining your team's success.


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