Operational Definition

An operational definition is a precise description that tells how to get a value for the characteristic you are trying to measure. It includes what something is and how to measure iit. It serves to remove ambiguity among people and create consistency in measurement.A good operational definition may also provide a clear way to measure the characteristic (who, what, where, when and how) to ensure that the results are essentially the same for anyone making the measurement. Operational Definition is a concept that helps to guide a team’s thinking on what properties they will be measuring and how they will be measured. The foundation of sound operational definitions is both understanding and agreement. There is no single right way to write an operational definition. There is only what people agree to for a specific purpose. The critical factor is that any two people using this definition will be measuring the same thing.

The following are some guidelines for developing operational definition:

  • Specific and concrete criteria
  • Everyone have the same understanding
  • States how to get a measurement
  • Must be relevant to the customer

Example 1: On-time departure

A consumer organisation wants to rate airlines on how frequently they manage to have on-time departures. But before they can start collecting data, they need an operational definition of an on-time departure. An on-time departure is one in which the door to the jet-way is closed within 5 minutes of the scheduled departure. Airport control provides the time for closure; scheduled departure time is provided by the airport system. For each flight, gate supervisor will note the time the jet-way is closed and determine if each flight left within 5 minutes of scheduled departure time.

Example 2: Credit Approval Cycle-time

A Bank wants to decrease the time it takes for Credit Approvals. As an initial part of the problem-solving process, managers want to collect data on what time it currently takes to obtain credit approvals. But to do that they need an operational definition for Credit Approval Cycle-time. Credit Approval Cycle-time is the time it takes from when the customer first expresses a need for a credit facility to an RM, till the time such a credit facility is approved and communicated to the customer. For each credit approval, the RM will note the time taken by comparing the date on which the facility was requested and the date on which the approval was formally communicated to the customer.