Baseline (noun.)

Definition: A measurement of something before making changes.

Also referenced as: Goal (noun) Baselines (noun)

Related to: Data, Flag, Goal, Improvement, Measure, Purpose, Reflection



The word baseline was used 13 times across 8 pages


Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 87

Your intent shows you what you want to become when you're all grown up. But intent alone won't get things done.

Breaking your intent into specific goals helps you to figure out where to invest your time and energy, and how to measure your progress along the way.

A goal is something specific that you want to do. A well-defined goal has the following elements:



Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 93

The first step in understanding how something is performing is to measure it as it is.

A baseline is the measurement of something before changing it. Without baselines, assumptions will likely lead us in the wrong direction.

Here are two examples:

  • If a prominent department store saw quarterly profits increase by $1.5M after their Super Bowl ad, the ad may be seen as effective. But if the baseline of regular quarterly profit increase for this brand is typically $5.5M+ after a Super Bowl ad, we'd judge the ad differently.
  • Imagine an elementary school is reporting test scores averaging in the C+ range for the majority of their students. This may seem unimpressive, or even worrisome, until our baseline is introduced: average test scores this time last year were a D+.

When we have a baseline, we can judge performance. Without that, we may mistake the ad as successful and the teachers as incapable.



Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 95

Some things are best measured moment to moment. Others are best measured over weeks, months, years, or even decades.

The right rhythm depends on your context and your intent. When you're choosing a rhythm, think about the ways you collect data, how specific it needs to be, and how complex it is.

Consider these factors:

  • Timeframe: Is this measurement most useful after one hour, one day, a season, a year, or an entire decade? What's a better baseline: yesterday, last month, a year ago, or twenty years ago?
  • Access: Is the data readily available? Or does it require help from a particular person or system?


Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 96

What is good for one person can be profoundly bad for another, even if their goal is roughly the same. We each live within a unique set of contradictions and experiences that shape how we see the world.

Remember that there's no right or wrong way to do something. Words like right and wrong are subjective.

The important part is being honest about what you intend to accomplish within the complicated reality of your life. Your intent may differ from other people; you may perceive things differently.

You may be dealing with an indicator that's surprisingly difficult to measure, a data source that's grossly unreliable, or a perceptual baseline that's impossible to back up with data.

But as fuzzy as your lens can seem, setting goals with incomplete data is still a good way to determine if you're moving in the right direction.

Uncertainty comes up in almost every project. But you can only learn from those moments if you don't give up. Stick with the tasks that help you clarify and measure the distance ahead.



Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 97

Jim owns a retail store. His profits and traffic have been declining for the last few years. His employees are convinced that, to save the business, the company website needs to let people buy things online. But all Jim sees is more complications, more people to manage, and more expenses. He thinks, "If we sell on the website, we have to take photos, and pack and ship each order. Who will do that?"

With rent going up and profits going down, Jim isn't sure if changing the website will save his business. He doesn't know the distance he needs to travel to get to his goal. He wonders, "Will improving my website even help? Or will it just make things worse?"

To think through this decision, Jim:

If Jim's goal is to increase in-store traffic and reduce expenses, an online store probably doesn't make as much sense as other things he could do.



Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 98

Think about what you're trying to accomplish.

  1. Revisit what you intend to do and why. Now break it down into specific goals.
  2. Make a dream list of what would be measureable in an ideal world. Even if the measurement is fuzzy or hard to find, it's useful to think about the best-case scenario.
  3. Remember to mine data from people.
  4. Measure the baseline of what you can. Once you have your dream list, narrow it down to an achievable set of measurements to gather a baseline reading of.
  5. Make a list of indicators to potentially measure.
  6. List some situations where you'd want to be notified if things change. Then, figure out how to make those flags for yourself.


Chapter 6: Play with Structure | Page 115

Joan is the social media coordinator for an airline that recently merged with another airline. Overnight, her team became responsible for twice as much work as before. She's also now responsible for managing twice as many people.

As the details of the merger iron out, duplicative channels have to be dealt with. For example, they now have two Twitter accounts and two help directories on two different websites. To tie everything together, Joan:



Chapter 7: Prepare to Adjust | Page 130

  1. Have you explored the depth and edges of the mess that you face?
  2. Do you know why you have the intent you have and what it means to how you will solve your problem?
  3. Have you faced reality and thought about contexts and channels your users could be in?
  4. What language have you chosen to use to clarify your direction?
  5. What specific goals and baselines will you measure your progress against?
  6. Have you put together various structures and tested them to make sure your intended message comes through to users?
  7. Are you prepared to adjust?