Stoplight – a Universal Metric Measuring System

“We’re doing fine” was the bane of my existence when I ran my I.T. company. I hated it when someone would say that phrase back to me. I was constantly worried about various parts, especially when I would receive a complaint from either a team member, or a client, about a certain part, piece, or process in the organization. Business norms told me I needed to use numbers and have dashboards, metrics, and KPIs to define what good looked like, but we didn’t have those clearly defined, and it was impossible to remember what every number meant within specific contexts. We needed a universal metric measuring system – a common language to help all of us understand how something was doing. 

The business “norm” said I should be able to run the organization by the numbers. I decided to run it by color code instead. Specifically, the magic of the stoplight system saved my sanity. 

Stoplight is exactly as it sounds – a three colored system (Red, Yellow, Green) that you can apply to any numerical based metric to judge how it is performing. Reds are broken numbers – they’re outside normal acceptable performance and require focused managerial attention, as well as evaluation of current process and procedure to see why they’re broken. Yellows are out of alignment – it doesn’t mean the system, process, or person is broken/not performing, but it does mean you need to keep your eye on it. It’s like the wheel tap on cruise control – periodic adjustments to get it back on track. Green is in good working order – Don’t neglect the metric, but a cursory glance is all that’s required. The best part about the system is how easy it was to explain – it created a universal metric measuring system that everyone on our team could understand and utilize. 

We applied Stoplight to all of our metrics in one of two ways. If a number was a “manage to zero” metric (meaning the only acceptable response was “Zero”) we used a range of Green = 0, Yellow = 1, Red =<2 (Or abandoned the yellow if it truly was a big issue to have a “1” for the metric.)

If the number was more of a range, then we would define the metric as Green <= Yellow <= Red (or the other way if it was better to have a higher result for the metric). Green would flow into yellow as the metric became less healthy, which would eventually tip into red if it went too far out of alignment. 

An example metric from the IT World was Number of open Incidents (or “tickets”) – the more of these open, the less healthy our clients were at that particular point. We wanted as few open incidents as possible at any one time. So our Incident Count metric would read as:


60 <= Yellow <= 75

Red >75

Or combined:

(Green) 60 <= (Yellow) <= 75 (Red) 

Once we applied this company wide, I immediately could dial in on areas that needed my attention, and appropriately support my team upon discovery. It also helped quantify the dreaded “Everything is fine” statement – if it was all green, then it truly was fine. Yellows and Reds helped me push back on the manager who didn’t want to be held accountable for low performance on their team.

My key take away was that while the truth of using data to make decisions did hold true for us, it was UNTRUE that I had to do it strictly “numerically” – I could use an overlay of colors to help me process the information easier and make decisions off of those. Instead of having a spreadsheet of data points, Stoplight allowed me to manage by exception to normative values. 

No one can “tell” you how to manage your organization. If a certain way isn’t working well for you, look at it from a different angle, and try a different methodology. There are multiple ways to get to the finish line of high performance. Use the one that works for you.  Whatever you do, I would implore you to try to make sure you use the same system across your business: Using a universal metric measuring system can foster more clear and effective communication for your operations and sales teams. 

No matter what you do, you need to manage to key metrics. As my peer, colleague, and friend Joe Lamb from Red Vine Operations says succintly in his recent article “True MSP Management: Moving the Numbers” – ‘The single greatest indicator of your success in MSP Management is your ability to move the numbers on your profit and loss report.’

There’s no way to get your team on board with that movement without making everyone have universal understanding. 

If you’re struggling with how to plan for what’s next in your organization Richardson & Richardson can help. Check out our case studies for stories of organizations that we’ve assisted with similar issues and download our white papers for deep dives on tools you can use in your organization. If you’re wondering where to start, book a complimentary session with one of the Richardsons today to come up with a plan on how to move forward.

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