4DX: LAG vs. LEAD

Tomasz Kaczanowski
May 16 · 3 min read

This post was originally published at http://tomek.kaczanowscy.pl/2019/05/4dx-lag-vs-lead/

This blog post is based on my experience with 4DX (4 Disciplines of Execution) framework (check their book or wait till I write more posts about it). I will go with a simple example to introduce the concepts of LAG and LEAD measures, which are an important part of 4DX.

[Disclaimer] I have heard at least 3 naming variants. Some people refer to LAG/LEAD metrics, some to measures and some call them indicators. Personally, I don’t give a damn. The concept works for me, and that is enough.

LAG

Imagine you want to beat 3h marathon time (BTW. kudos, if you do!). In this case, the time is your LAG measure. In a few months, when you finally run the race you signed up for, you will find if you made it or not. What drove the LAG measure is already in the past. When you cross the finish line all you can do either celebrate your success or plan to reach your goal next year.

LEAD

But things look very different when you prepare for your race. You probably keep a diary of all your training sessions. You write down how many kilometers you did per week, how many calories you ate and how many gym sessions you did. These are your LEAD measures. And you can act upon them every day. You did 10km today? Do 15km tomorrow if you are lagging behind your plan.

The main difference

LAG tells you if you’ve achieved your goal

while

LEAD tells you if you move in the right direction

It has some implications. There is no point in checking your LAG result every day (but you should check LEAD metrics often) and there is no point to check your LEAD scores when the deadline comes (because LAG is the only one that counts then).

So your scoreboard should show values of LEAD measures. And you should be obsessed with them every single day.

Cause and effect

Imagine you own an online shop and plan to beat Amazon (good luck with that!). You want to advertise your shop so you create an awesome Instagram profile which gets widely popular. You think

“if they like my cat pictures, they will also visit my shop and buy a lot of stuff, hurray!”

and so you take number of likes as one of your LEAD measures. Unfortunately, no one is buying anything, so your LAG measure (which is number of items sold) stays at zero.

It seems, you fell into the trap called “vanity metrics”. You pull the wrong lever. The stone won’t even budge. (See the picture at the very top to get the stone metaphor).

Hint: There must be a cause and effect relationship between LEAD and LAG.

The Cost

Now, there is also another difference. The cost of obtaining the numbers. For LAG measures it is as simple as checking the time at the finish line. The cost is virtually zero.

But it is not so simple with LEAD measures — it takes patience and perseverance to collect them day by day. Gathering data for LEAD measures might cost you a lot of trouble/effort/time/money.

The End (for now)

That is it. Personally, I find the distinction between LAG and LEAD very useful. I will blog about it some more, so stay tuned.

Tomasz Kaczanowski

Written by

Dev, team lead, agile coach and organisation builder. http://kaczanowscy.pl/books/