Measuring Workload

Dear Management Doctor:

How do community planning departments (part of municipal government) measure their workload in terms of documenting efforts, efficiency, productivity, etc?  I would appreciate direction from The Management Doctor and staff, and/or readers about how they deal with this topic - and some hints for accomplishing such "measurements." 

Thanks much,

Joey Glushko
Arlington, MA

Dear Joey:

I have written about this topic extensively on our website. Go to for a search index page, go to subject matter, click on “P” and go to Performance Measures and Standards. You will see 14 articles there. However, in a nutshell here are a few keys:

  1. Widgets
    Using measurement jargon, you first need to document how many items or “widgets” you are handling or trying to handle. For current planning this is simply the annual volume of applications by type. For long range planning it is a list of work program items. I am continually amazed in our organizational studies, how many planning and community development departments do not have this data.
  2. Labor Per Widget
    Calculate the average amount of staff time required for each widget. This is the piece that most planning departments resist but it is essential if you are to do a staffing analysis. Look at Chapter 21 in my book, The ABZs of Planning Management, Second Edition to see how to do this.
  3. Billable Hours
    You need to calculate how many hours are actually available for each staff member. Again you will see this in Chapter 21.
  4. Staff Needs
    Now, you simply divide the needed hours (Item 2 above) by the billable hours (Item 3 above) and you have an estimate of your staffing needs.
  5. Timelines
    For each widget you should set a performance timeline. For development applications this is the amount of work days from start to finish. Ideally you also measure the in-between times and speed things up for each cycle. For long range planning, it is setting a target date to complete the effort and measuring against that target date.
  6. Effectiveness
    Everything so far tends to measure efficiency. The much harder measures are effectiveness. The planning profession doesn’t do a very good job here. We are beginning to see measures in sustainability and global warming and similar efforts. Ideally you set goals and then measure against the goals. This could be tax base, amount of transit riders, homeownership, open space preserved, citizen surveys regarding quality issues, carbon footprint, etc. All of these measures require a qualitative judgment before you can measure.

I encourage our emailers to add to this list. Call us if you need more detailed advice.

The Management Doctor

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