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

What Measurements Work Well?

by

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.

The Palermo Stone

The Palermo Stone, as it was before it was fragmented. It's probably the earliest historical text from ancient Egypt, recording, among other things, measurements of the Nile flood over a five-year period. Photo courtesy Museo Archeologico Regionale, Palermo.

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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional  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? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

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.

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:

Jigsaw puzzle piecesFirst Aid for Painful Meetings
The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.
Something from Abraham, from Mark and from HennyAbraham, Mark, and Henny
Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make things so complicated?
Statue of Hermes with modern headTeamwork Myths: Formation
Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths. In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
An example of a Weaver's PathwayStill More Things I've Learned Along the Way
When I have an important insight, or when I'm taught a lesson, I write it down. Here's another batch from my personal collection.
A large audience listening to a speakerGetting Value from Involuntary Seminars
Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tennis balls on a tennis court. Your fitness program can be a part of your job search.Coming July 28: Be Choosier About Job Offers: II
An unfortunate outcome of job searches occurs when a job seeker feels forced to accept an offer that isn't a good fit. Sometimes financial pressures are so severe that the seeker has little choice. But financial pressures are partly perceptual. Here's how to manage feeling that pressure. Available here and by RSS on July 28.
A beach at sunsetAnd on August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, 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.