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Policy, Data, Oversight Performance Management

Measuring Hard-to-Measure Work: Research Scientists

Some work seems hard to measure. For example, some supervisors and employees find it difficult on an annual basis to measure the accomplishments of a research scientist— especially when the final result of the scientist's research may not occur for 2-5 years or more. How can supervisors and employees develop a results-focused annual performance plan for a research scientist who has complex, long-term projects? A Handbook for Measuring Employee Performance: Aligning Employee Performance Plans With Organizational Goals, available on our web site, describes systematic methods for analyzing work that can help supervisors and employees develop performance plans for hard-to-measure jobs. One method the Handbook describes uses flow charts to organize the work.

Measures Derived From Work Flow Charting

Supervisors and employees can organize long-term, complex projects into interim accomplishments by charting the flow of the work. A work flow chart maps the major steps in a project by beginning with the first step, defining each successive step, and ending with the result. If a result does not occur annually, at least supervisors and employees can measure interim accomplishments. By analyzing the activities of a research scientist who may have multiple projects to complete during the next few years, the following interim and final accomplishments become evident:

Work Flow Chart for Research Scientist
Step 1
Project Plan(s)
Step 2
Research Milestones
Step 3
Written and/or
Verbal Report(s)
Activities that produce this interim accomplishment include:
  • identifying avenues of research;
  • gathering initial information;
  • completing analysis; and
  • completing design.
Activities that produce this interim accomplishment include:
  • conducting research;
  • performing experiments; and
  • recording findings.
Activities that produce this final accomplishment include:
  • publishing results; and
  • preparing verbal presentation.

Example Elements and Standards

By using the method described above and focusing on employee accomplishments, supervisors and employees might develop a performance plan that includes the following elements and standards:

Element: Project Plan(s)

Fully Successful Standard: The supervisor typically finds that the employee completes project plans by established deadlines and the plans usually include:

  • a clear, understandable objective;
  • a description of how the project aligns with the agency's strategic goals;
  • realistic proposed costs;
  • a logical statement of the problem;
  • a thorough description of the proposed approach;
  • a reference to applicable recent results; and
  • realistic milestones.

Element: Research Milestones

Fully Successful Standard: The supervisor typically finds that the employee completes research according to the specifications described in the project plan, and that the employee consistently follows safety regulations. The employee consistently completes established milestones.

Element: Research Report(s)

Fully Successful Standard: The supervisor typically finds that written and oral presentations are clear, understandable, demonstrate an expertise in the field and a proactive and innovative approach to advancing the field of research, and meet the deadlines established in the project plan.

When appraising performance, the appraising official would most likely use these general elements and standards in connection with the specific expected outcomes for research described in the organizational work plan.


These examples are very general and represent a minimum framework of what a performance plan could include.

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