The use of metrics

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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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.
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.
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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Objectives and Key Results (OKR)

The Objective is qualitative, and the KR’s (most often three) are quantitative.

They are used to focus a group or individual around a bold goal. The objective sets a goal for a set period of time, usually a quarter. The key results tell you if the objective has been met by the end of the time.

In 1954, management guru Peter Drucker introduced “management by objectives,” an approach where employees would agree with their boss on a set of goals and work toward achieving those objectives throughout the year.

Value In Numbers
  • Doing something people find valuable should be able to push your metric scores up, as a by-product. This is the real-world proof of quality in this age.
  • Similarly, if we do something, and the metrics go down, it’s a clear indication the action was wrong, no matter how right it seemed.
  • Numbers speak and provide a clear and tangible ‘score’ to rally a team around.

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