A PSF (old equation) Look at Super Bowl XLIII

As a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers I was thrilled by the great game played by both teams on Sunday. The final score 27-23, Steelers. But let’s look at the game a little closer from the perspective of a old equation firm. Their analysis would look something like this:

For the Cardinals

  • Total Net Yards – 407

  • Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) – 57
  • Average Gain per Offensive Play – 7.1
  • Net Yards Rushing – 33
  • Total Rushing Plays – 12
  • Average Gain per Rushing Play – 2.8
  • Net Yard Passing – 374
  • Gross Yards Passing – 377
  • Pass Completions/Attempts – 31/43 = 72%
  • Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) – 8.3

For the Steelers

  • Total Net Yard – 292

  • Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks) – 58
  • Average Gain per Offensive Play – 5.0
  • Net Yard Rushing – 58
  • Total Rushing Plays – 26
  • Average Gain per Rushing Play – 2.2
  • Net Yards Passing – 234
  • Gross Yards Passing – 256
  • Pass Completions/Attempts – 21/30 = 70%
  • Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) – 7.3

In virtually every offensive category (in italics above) the Cardinals come out ahead. Do you notice something about these stats? They are all effort based, even those that measure efficiency — average gain per offensive play, average gain per rushing play, pass completion percentage, and average gain per passing pay. Measuring and using these statistics to determine the outcome of a game is nonsensical.

The same thing is true about professional firms that measure billable hours, utilization, and realization. They are all effort based, not result based. A billable hour is not a result, it is not a touchdown. It is an effort, it is a pass attempt.

As with any analysis of data, while you can measure based on efforts, you cannot judge or determine the outcomes based on them. What is true for sports teams is true for professional service firms. Stop measuring the efforts, start judging (better yet have your customers judge) the results!


  1. Ron Baker says:

    Great post Ed. It reminds me of your line that is baseball metrics were based on the same theory as Firms of the Past, they count the number of swings at bat.

  2. Eric Fetterolf says:

    But Ed,

    In this example, the Cardinals only lose if there is a hard deadline, ie time runs out.

    In a billable hour model, extending the effort beyond the deadline increases revenues…..

  3. Thanks for the comment Eric.

    However, time is not my point here. Even if it were I would argue that “extending the effort beyond the deadline” does not increase revenue. In most cases, firms that bill by the hour are really doing cost plus with a maximum. The customer will only tolerate a certain amount of overage, after that they will stop paying. So while it might be revenue when it is billed, it is going to be written off.

    With that said, my analogy could be extended to time. After all both teams will play the same amount of time, even if the game goes into overtime. If hours = value then both teams should be given the win because they played the same amount of time.

    Try telling that to the Cardinal and their fans!

  4. Eric Fetterolf says:


    I see where you are going. I was taking a different path.

    In an Time-Based metric billing system, the more Time, the more billing, the more revenues. It encourages missing deadlines so the project can be extended. In a hard deadline project, like a game, that habitial behavior can really haunt an organization.

  5. Matthew Tol says:


    Being an Aussie, I have a very rudimentary understanding of gridiron (you guys really should get a handle on Aussie Rules – better game by far and no padding!)

    The outcome would seem to one where the efficiency is a small component, but the effectiveness is the thing that won the game. There are some incredibly efficient firms out there (look at their KPI’s) but are they truly being effective in what they’re doing? As part of effectiveness, the outcome (value) should be of paramount importance – not the method used to achieve it.

    If you measure the method, you’ll focus on process, if you measure the outcome, you’ll focus on results. Results count.

  6. Well said, using any sports analogy.

    BTW – I love Footy (and Cricket) and I am sure there are equivalents. Many sports measure individual accomplishments based on efficiency. Of course, the great thing about sports is that outcomes are very clear.

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