How to approach ‘metrics’?

There is confusion around why, what and how to measure. Resistance to measuring also seem to originate from a too narrow interpretation of the term ‘measuring’, a fuzzy approach and a lack of creativity on how to measure what. Douglas W. Hubbard offers guidance by asking powerful questions.

How to approach ‘metrics’?

There is much truth in the saying that comes in many variations: “What gets measured gets managed”, “Everything that can be measured can also be managed” or even “What isn’t measured can’t be managed”. ‑ If you don’t measure progress or success, how would you know you reached the goal?

Now, there is much confusion around why, what and how to measure as well as resistance to measuring that seem to originate from a

  • too narrow interpretation of the term ‘measuring’
  • fuzzy approach
  • lack of creativity on how to measure what.

Some people associate ‘measuring’ with lab coats, values with many digits behind the decimal point or requiring complicated formulas and ways to produce valid results. This –typically- does not reflect reality nor is complexity always necessary.

There also seems misconception that measuring has to eliminate any error and that there simply is no metrics possible for less tangible problems like ‘employee engagement’, ‘employee satisfaction’ or ‘strategic alignment’ just to name a few.

It becomes much easier if you understand measuring as a means to reduce uncertainty. When stakes to fail are high in an environment with much uncertainty, then reducing uncertainty is worthwhile, as it reduces risk and provides a quantifiable value. Even a very simple metrics can often help to answer the critical question.

When it comes to how to a systematic approach to measuring, here are some guiding questions that I found in a book of Douglas W. Hubbard; find specific answers before you measure:

  1. What is the decision this is supposed to support?
  2. What really is the thing being measured?
  3. Why does this thing matter to the decision being asked?
  4. What do you know about it?
  5. What is the value to measure it further?

(Source: “How to Measure Anything – finding the value of intangibles in business” (p.43) by Douglas W. Hubbard;

If you take a sharp look around, you may find that many things are being measured without adding any benefit. For example: no decisions being made based on a measurement, such as a periodic report or detailed survey results.

Other things aren’t measured but should. For example: what business value does an ERG add to a company?