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You become what you measure

I've been watching this talk where Luke made a lot of great points on user experience, product management and business. One remark particularly resonated with me.

- You become what you measure, - said Luke.
It was an "aha" moment for me. Immediately the numerous cases from my own career came to mind.

  • Improve conversion on this page
  • Increase downloads of an app
  • We want more people using feature A
  • We need to hire that many people this quarter
  • The market expects our share price to increase 
  • and so on. 

Most of those objectives have been reached. However, often, reaching those objectives weren't beneficial to the business in the long term. On its own, every objective could make sense, however, the complexities of modern businesses are such that a wider impact on a company's bottom line should be assessed.

Human beings adjust behaviour based on the metrics they’re held against. 

That's so true. You get exactly what you measure. And while you measure the right things - you should be fine.

Do we measure what's easy to measure? 

That's the danger, isn't it? Some things are hard to measure. Take customer loyalty? Most businesses want that, but it's hard to measure. So instead they measure repeated purchases or "loyalty card" stamps. Are those the right metrics for customer loyalty? Probably not. But it's easy to measure.

Or take test scores in schools. What do they measure? Real knowledge or skills to pass tests? Real knowledge is hard to measure while test results are easy. And most importantly what are the students optimise for? Tests. Obviously. As this is what is measured.

It's so easy to lose a common sense in pursuit of that one metric. I've heard that anecdote on the "Product experience" podcast and even if it never happened, it so easily could have happened.

At the Ford production line, the management at one point was measuring metallic waste as a metric for employee's performance. It was believed that the more waste an employee generates during a day of work - the harder he must have been working. Unsurprisingly, when a production line was slow, factory employees were forced to waste some good metal only to comply with the metric. Soon it became obvious that the chosen metric is wrong and Ford managers returned to the drawing board.

Perhaps we need a balanced approach

Metrics are obviously important. If you don't measure - you can't improve. And the focus is equally important. If we all push towards a beneficial outcome - we have more chances of reaching it. However, the vital role of leadership is to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Make sure all vital business metrics are in check. Ensure that while improving one critical metric we don't hurt others.

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