A few weeks ago, we were visiting Homestretch headquarters, planning our community service activity for the Martin Luther King holiday. During the meeting, one of us asked a staffer the simple question: On average, how long does an unit stay empty. The staffer replied: “I’m not sure. We don’t keep track of that. What we care about is how many units are available at any given time”.
I was awe-struck.
Homestretch is a non-profit. They have to run on a shoe-string budget, use limited staff, and serve a clientele that ranges from refugees to layoffs to domestic violence victims. Also consider that half of their units are rented from other owners, to where they generate an negative property revenue each month. Yet, they completely ignore the convention metric of resource idle time. From this brief dialog, I learned a few lessons:
- Measure Your Mission – When a project, or an organization knows it’s mission, you can find that one measurement that tells you how well you’re doing. In the case of Homestretch, it’s how many otherwise homeless families are we housing right now, and how many more could we help right now.
- Train The Measurement – Did I mention the staffer wasn’t an office worker? His name is Saul, and he’s a maintenance supervisor. The fact that everyone on the staff knew what numbers mattered most is a hint to why Homestretch is so successful.
- Capacity Matters More – When looking for that measurement, consider that Capacity matters more than Idle time. Rather than fussing over how much work you’re not doing, focus on how much work you are doing. It sounds like the same, but the subtley is huge. While idle time tells you if resources are busy on anything at all, capacity tells you how much business value you are generating. Indeed, if capacity goes too far in one direction, you end up learning the same thing you would be trying to find measuring idle time.
On MLK day, we turned over 4 housing units, and moved the life skills training facility to a larger space. Certainly, the event was a success, but I can tell exactly how much of a success it was in Homestretch’s own terminology: 4 new families off the street.