…is a phrase I often use when talking about measuring stuff in performance systems. Although I deride arbitrary numerical targets at every turn, I genuinely believe it’s essential to measure things, as long as they are the right things. So, first of all, that begs the question, “What are the ‘right things’?”
Fair question, sometimes followed by, “…and how do you measure them ‘right’?” (Okay, so that should say ‘properly’, not ‘right’ – sorry Grammar Police, I just think it’s catchier). Anyway, another fair question.
So let me try and answer.
First of all, the right measures are the ones derived from purpose. Purpose is what the system is there to achieve.
For instance, here’s some dials in a cockpit. I’ve marked what a few of them tell the pilot. You can see that it’s pretty useful stuff – how fast the plane is flying, what direction it’s heading, how the oil pressure is doing, and so on. All linked to purpose – in this case to fly passengers safely to their destination. The method by which the information is relayed to the pilot is useful too – the dials are capable of indicating change in real time, enabling our pilot to respond accordingly and make adjustments if necessary.
Right measures, measured right.
Therefore, the right measures, presented in a meaningful and readable format, enable the user to understand how the system is performing, as well as identify what needs to be done to attain purpose successfully.
Now, what about if you use the wrong measures?
Well here’s the same set of dials, this time configured to measure the wrong things. Ok so it’s a pretty daft example, but it makes the point. Using the wrong measures means it’s impossible to establish if you’re achieving purpose. There’s no point counting the wrong things, just because they’re easy to count. Furthermore, if you’re using the wrong measures, don’t expect them to encourage the right behaviours.
Next, what about if you measure the right things, but in the wrong way? Well, this happens:
Here’s the ‘binary comparison’ version of the cockpit dials. All the same measures as in the original configuration, but presented in a way that can’t tell you anything useful. For more on binary comparisons click here, or just talk to me for more than five minutes.
Finally, for the benefit of those people who interpret my ‘no targets’ message as ‘no performance management’, have a read of this blog which explains the distinction between targets, measures and priorities. Relax – I’m not some anti-measurement anarchist.
This is what would happen if we didn’t measure anything:
I wouldn’t want to be a passenger on that plane.
There’s nothing pink and fluffy about doing measurement properly. It’s just better use of information. Much better than trying to guess whether something’s going up or down because you’ve compared it to last month. And taking the targets out means that people can focus on purpose, rather than the targets.
Enjoy the flight.