2 min read

An example of a non-obvious lag measure

Some goals come with obvious lag measures. For example:

  1. Goal: Reach a body weight of 165 lbs. Lag measure: My body weight.
  2. Goal: Scale my business (income) to $1500 MRR. Lag measure: Recurring revenue—monthly, annual, whatever.

There measures are obvious in the sense that the goal is to make a number go down or make a number go up, possibly with a threshold. So, obviously it is useful to track what the number is. But what about goals that don't have numbers in them? How do you define a lag measure then?

Let's make this concrete with an example. Say I want to get better at writing fiction. I specify that further and define it more carefully so the goal may be challenging, specific, immediate, and approach-oriented (CSI Approach): Get a short story accepted into an edited magazine. Leaving aside whether that is a good translation of "get better at writing fiction," we can ask: How would we analyze this in terms of lead and lag measure?

There's an obvious lead measure for this goal: Number of submissions made. I can increase that by submitting more stories to more magazines. Assuming I have a few stories ready to submit, this should work pretty well.

But what's the lag measure? The only lag measure obvious to me is "did I get accepted?" But that's a terrible lag measure because that is the goal. What's the point of calling the goal itself a lag measure, other than ticking a box? "Now I have a lag measure." Technically true, but if I have defined my goal to be specific, then this is automatic, so it's trivial. As a checkbox, it doesn't add anything beyond the "CSI Approach" checklist. Why bother?

In this case, maybe I could define a lag measure of "Number of rejections with encouraging comment." This is (a) not the goal itself, (b) seems positively correlated with both completing the goal and the underlying motivation to get better at writing, and (c) related in some complicated, not entirely controllable way to the lead measure. So, maybe this is a good lag measure for this goal.

Seemed like more work to think of that than the weight loss example, though.

What other non-obvious lag measures are out there? How do we find them, given that they're not obvious? I started writing this post by wondering if there were any at all—the draft title was "Are there any non-obvious lag measures?" This example proves existence—but they still seem tricky to come up with. Are there tricks to make them more obvious? I wonder.