Pointless Conversations


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Defining the metric

People get very excited about metrics, they spend hours debating exceptions and accuracy.  Definition becomes everything. Imagine the conversation…

My Boss:

You take too long to get to work in the morning, we must measure performance. What should the target be?


I’m not sure, there are a number of things we should take into account…

  • When do we start the clock?  When the alarm goes off or when my feet hit the floor?
  • It would be fairer to only measure during the holidays. Then we can exclude school traffic effects which are out of my hands
  • Of course we must “stop the clock” if my teenage daughter forgets something.
  • We should exclude Mondays as they aren’t representative and double weight Fridays to make up for it.

There are so many ways I could argue the toss, and waste everybody’s time making the metric — and myself — look good.  Why would I want to be judged by a badly thought through target that I can’t hit?

Non of this improves anything

The debate won’t get me into work any sooner. A more productive alternative is to get on with it. First measure the time it takes from my alarm going off to me sitting down at my desk. Then work out where I’m spending the time and do something about it.

How could I improve?

  • Should I buy a teas made?
  • Could I cycle to the tram stop?
  • Should I start an hour later to avoid the traffic?
  • Could I eat my breakfast in the tram?

There are lots of things I could do to get to work quicker. But — and it is a big but — I will only start the conversation if I’m not going to be accused of being an idle git because of my fondness for the snooze button.

Targets or measures?

The metric is just a metric, it is how you use it that counts.

  • Is it going to br a target to hit people with?
  • Is it going to be a measure to guide their way?

The distinction between a target and a measure is subtle. The outcome is huge. Though it is safe to say that if you spend all your time arguing about metric definition, then you aren’t using it properly. 

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Goodhart’s law

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Photo by Matheus Vinicius on Unsplash

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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