Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 21;   May 23, 2007: Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III

Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: III

by

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.

Even when measurement precedes desired results, we sometimes wonder whether the measuring caused the outcome. We've already looked at our assumptions regarding measurement itself, and at the effects of employee behavior. But management actions also raise questions about measurement-based management. Here are four examples. See Part I, and Part II for more.

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge

One of the many problems contributing to cost overruns in the highway project known as Boston's "Big Dig" was a sequence of delays in determining the design of the Charles River Crossing. Once this decision making overran its schedule, very serious problems developed later in the project, in both management and engineering and construction. As in the private sector, the early focus of scrutiny has been on the engineering and construction rather than on management, in part because we measure them more carefully. Pictured is the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in a later construction phase, as it emerges from the Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. Tunnel to cross the Charles River. This particular crossing is very near the one referred to as "two if by sea," in the poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere", by Longfellow (1860). Photo courtesy Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

We tend to measure "them" rather than "us"
Measurements are relatively less likely to probe attributes of management processes than they are to probe attributes of other processes. For instance, the starting point for time-to-market measurements usually comes after the "fuzzy front end" — the part that includes concept formulation, final approval, and resource allocation — all management processes.
If we believe in the efficacy of measurement, we ought to apply it to management processes, too.
We tend not to measure the effectiveness of metrics-based management
The effectiveness of measurement depends on processes for selecting and designing metrics, collecting metrics data, analyzing it, and using the results to adjust processes. These activities are rarely measured themselves.
If metrics-based management works, it should work for the metrics approach itself. The rarity of attempts to measure the effectiveness of metrics-based management raises questions both about our commitment to the approach, and its validity.
Measurement fatigue
When people adapt to measurement, they find ways to limit the controlling effects of the measurement. The organization then returns to Square Two, which is just like Square One, except for the added burden of reporting (and evading the effects of) the metric. Typically, organizations respond by introducing another metric to "control" the evasion problem.
In this way, an organization acquires a steadily increasing burden of (mostly) ineffective metrology, which eases only with a reorg, or the arrival of a new high-level manager, or an acquisition, or clean-sheet re-engineering, or major downsizing or bankruptcy.
You can't always get what you want
Measurement doesn't help
much if employees are
unable to produce
the desired results
due to forces outside
their control
Even when we measure what we want to get, we might not be providing the resources needed to achieve it. Employees might simply be unable to produce the desired results, because of forces outside their control, physical laws, government laws and regulations, inadequate resources, deficits in skills or knowledge, toxic culture, wrong knowledge, ineffective management, or other factors.
For instance, producing tight-tolerance parts with worn-out, outdated equipment is unlikely to work, no matter what you measure. Altered employee behavior just isn't the answer, and no amount of measuring the output will "encourage" them to do well enough.

And so it appears that there are ample reasons to explain the disappointing results of measurement-based management. Perhaps more puzzling is why the practice persists, and why it's so widely used. Other intriguing questions: When is measurement useful? When does measurement have the effect we hope for? I'll leave these questions for another time. Go to top Top  Next issue: Snares at Work  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.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.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A bear trapThe Mind Reading Trap
When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else, that's a recipe for trouble.
A wrecked boatShould I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets, rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
A forest fireOrganizational Firefighting
Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
Dr. Jerri Nielsen at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999On Virtual Relationships
Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?
A red molded plastic zipperPersonal Feasibility Decisions
When considering whether to exploit a rare but desirable opportunity, there is a risk that desire can overcome good sense. Having at hand a predefined framework for making such decisions reduces the risk of blundering by acting in haste.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.