Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 33;   August 15, 2007: What Measurements Work Well?

# What Measurements Work Well?

To manage well, we need to know where we are, where we would like to be, and what we need to do to get there. Measurement can help us achieve our goals, by telling us where we are and how much progress we're making. But some things aren't measurable, and some measurement methods yield misleading results. How can we use measurement effectively?

Many organizations measure attributes of populations and processes in the hope of guiding the organization towards stated goals. But some of these measurements yield misleading data, for a variety of reasons. For instance, we sometimes use surveys that require respondents to supply their subjective judgments.

An example of subjective judgment: "Rate your subordinate's ability to work with others on a scale from 1 to 5." Such attributes cannot actually be measured. If you try to measure them, by means of, say, surveys — even anonymous surveys — you actually measure the rating that people enter on the form. That rating might or might not reflect what you think you're measuring.

Some measurements do work. Here are some properties of useful measurements.

Actionable
The organization must have in mind some adjustment of operations that it would make in response to the results. If you don't use the results of the measurement, why are you measuring it at all?
Boolean, numeric, or member of a defined list
The answer to the question "What is the observed value of this metric?" must be true or false; a number; or an element of a defined list. For instance, did we complete the project on time? If we were late, how late were we?
Objective
Determining the observed value of the measurement shouldn't involve subjective judgment. For example, the number of malware incidents per month, or the number of timecard hours or hours "badged in" per employee per month.
Untraceable
The people who provide the data, or whose activities the data describes, should be confident that the data they enter cannot be traced to them personally. This enhances (but does not ensure) the honesty of submissions, especially when the submitted data conveys bad news.
Out of awareness
If you don't use the
results of the measurement,
why are you measuring
it at all?
The people whose activity is being measured should be unaware that a measurement is taking place. This limits the impact of the so-called Hawthorne Effect. See "Getting Around Hawthorne," Point Lookout for October 2, 2002, for more.
Measured
The measurement process itself should be measured, to determine its quality. Measures that are helpful include traceability checks, the probability of the data actually being used, and multiple data collections to evaluate precision.
Fraud resistant
Sometimes people attempt to achieve desired measurement results by means of fraud. They conceal, misrepresent, spin, or do whatever is necessary to get the results they want or the results they believe the measurer wants. Plan enforcement actions in advance of the data collection, and establish organizational policy regarding measurement fraud.

How many of the measurements you now make meet these criteria? Most important, how many measurements do you actually use? If you eliminate those you never use, you might find resources that you can use to improve the rest.

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Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

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## Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

How We Avoid Making Decisions
When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
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Logically Illogical
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When group decisions go awry, we sometimes feel that the failure could have been foreseen. Often, the cause of the failure was foreseen, but because the seer was a dissenter within the group, the issue was set aside. Improving how groups deal with dissent can enhance decision quality.
The Myth of Difficult People
Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.

## Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Coming July 26: Strategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option. Available here and by RSS on July 26.
And on August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.

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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

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The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.