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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## Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Message Mismatches
Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message mismatches.
Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III
The phrase "You get what you measure," has acquired the status of "truism." Yet many measurement-based initiatives have produced disappointing results. Here's Part III of an examination of the idea — a look at management's role in these surprises.
Finding the Third Way
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
Solutions as Found Art
Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Holding Back: II
Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams. Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort they could contribute.

## Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Coming January 24: Understanding Delegation
It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
And on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

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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. Here's a date for this program: