Metrics: Useful or Evil? | Scott H Young - Deepstash
Metrics: Useful or Evil? | Scott H Young

Metrics: Useful or Evil? | Scott H Young

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Metrics: Useful or Evil? | Scott H Young

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John Doerr's Measure What Matters is about the importance of setting clear goals and using metrics to back them up. Doerr argues that metrics-driven OKRs (objectives and key results) have a considerable impact.

In contrast, Jerry Muller's The Tyranny of Metrics shows that measuring everything destroys our schools, hospitals, police and politics. When metrics is the most important, everyone will try to "game" the numbers. E.g., schools teach to the test rather than to educate.

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A case for metrics

Organisations often waste time by pursuing conflicting goals. OKRs helps to focus united efforts as it is easy to evaluate progress when goals are tied to measurable results.

However, it can be a problem when goal-setting becomes an obsession. Common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Do not tie metrics to compensation.
  • If your metrics measure the wrong thing, be open to change it.
  • When quality and quantity matter, add more metrics.

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The tyranny of metrics

One criticism of metrics is the obsession with numbers leaves no space for qualitative assessment.

Numbers present a deceptive quality of objectivity. We tend to think of data as representing objective truth, but it does not always deserve the authority we give it.

  • Tracking metrics can take away from the actual work.
  • When pressured to reach specific numbers, people will game the system.
  • Tying metrics to rewards and punishments destroys intrinsic motivation.

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Consider both sides of metrics

  • We can apply metrics to different domains. Muller's critiques focus mainly on not-for-profits, where Doerr directs his attention to big business (such as tech).
  • Metrics inspire effort but also encourage corruption. Therefore, each metric should be considered in light of trade-offs.
  • Using metrics and goals can increase the effectiveness of a healthy company, but the same strategy can damage people in an unhealthy organisation.

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