What you can’t change, don’t measure

How many times have you heard the phrase thrown at you by anyone and their guru? No I am not asking you to keep a measure (count) of that. Whether it was a consulting firm or someone doing time and motion study that popularized it, I don’t know its origins. This statement has become a standard quip by someone, usually someone in power and position with nice title, trying to sound data driven. What that has led to is a world where we collect anything and everything that moves – from measuring sleep pattern with wearable fitness device to up to the minute update of sales pipeline.
We now have a new product positioning for this craze – Fitbit for xyz, named after the wearable pedometer that tracks the number of steps you take and the number of minutes you stay restless in your sleep. With a gauge for everything, collecting data all the time, the craziness has led to utter madness – Big Data.

So I urge you, before you put on a Fitbit on your wrist or Fitbit for customer experience, to stop and ask a few basic questions:

  1. Can I change what I seek to measure?
  2. Even if I can change, can I change it at the same cadence I seek to measure it?
  3. If I can change, fast enough, will the change have meaningful impact on the true measures of business performance? Sure you can change the number of retweets, blog mentions, video views, “how likely to recommend on 0 to 10”, etc., but does it matter to revenue, marketing ROI, pricing effectiveness and profit?
  4. Can I measure it cheaper than the effect of change?
  5. Even if the answer is yes to the questions above you need to ask – what other metric I could be collecting with my limited resources?

What do you measure? I hope the answer is, “I measure what I can change to make meaningful positive impact on my business objectives”.
What you can’t change, don’t measure.

2 thoughts on “What you can’t change, don’t measure

  1. Dan
    In all the situations you list I can see an implicit decision you are trying to change. That decision justifies measurement. Thanks for adding a very valid perspective.


  2. Rags–I enjoy your posts. You have some unique perspectives.

    There is an interesting conundrum with change and measurement. We are taught to measure only results. However, in nearly all change situations, whether it is exercising our bodies or improving profits, the results get worse before they get better. For example, we incur extra costs in the process of lowering the cost structure so that we can improve profits down the road. If we measure only results, we may abandon the effort too soon.

    In addition to results, we often have to measure activities to a) ensure we are on the path to change, and b) give the changes time to create positive results. Unfortunately, at the start of the process, there is not always a clear linkage between the activities that we engage in and the results we want. We have to learn as we go. Therefore it is often wise to treat the process as an experiment, measure too many things, and learn which are important in this situation so we will have a better database for the future.

    Best regards,


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