In most industries, and even non-business related activities, there are tools you can use to compare how you’re doing to some compilation of data from other similar ventures. While I believe comparative analysis is certainly something that should be considered, a more important measurement is how you are doing in your own world today and your individual trends over time.
I’ll share a few personal and business examples of average statistics that aren’t necessarily good numbers to shoot for. A golfer on the PGA tour usually puts a new ball in play every few holes of a golf tournament because he hits the ball with such power that he actually wears out the ball, while the average golfer should be able to play the same ball for at least a couple rounds. I, too, put a new ball in play every few holes, but it’s because I either hit something that scuffed it up, or it’s too deep in the woods or the pond to find. Don’t quote me on this because the facts may be a little fuzzy, but I once read an article that, on average, most serious private aircraft accidents happen when the pilot has around four hundred hours of flying experience. Of course, this is not a statistic that most pilots want to aspire to.
On the business side, there are industry measurements that a software company like Red Wing Software should spend about sixteen to eighteen percent of its budget on development. Again, that might be something worth measuring against, but we as a company need to look at our particular situation and determine if that is the right allocation for us. Another example would be comparing a particular business ratio against a specific industry benchmark. While that individual indicator might be way off, you should look at several indicators and determine if there is an anomaly in that one measurement and everything else is in line. It might be because of some significant difference in your particular business.
When doing business (or life) comparisons, make sure you look at all the facts that could affect the validity of the measurements, and make appropriate decisions. I personally prefer to look at trends and make certain they are headed in a positive direction. I’m down to about five new golf balls per eighteen-hole round.