Manage Yourself with Measures

In 2007 I read 31 novels.

In 2008 I read 19 novels.

In 2009 I read 12 novels.

In 2010 I read 8 novels.

Do you know how I know? It’s because I keep track of the books I read. It’s easy. Only a matter of writing down the title and author after I finished a book.

This year I intend to reverse the trend. I want to read more novels. How do I know if I succeed? Because I measure the throughput.

“You cannot manage what you don’t measure.”

Today I went to see the doctor. For a week I’ve been having trouble with my legs. I feared my blood circulation was out to kill me. I told the doctor that both my grandfathers died early of heart problems, and last year a regular blood/heart check up saved my father from certain death.

So the doctor decided to sample my blood. Do you know what they’re going to do with it? They’re going to perform all kinds of tests and metrics on it.

“You cannot manage what you don’t measure.”

After publishing this post, I’m going out for a walk. Because I didn’t do a spectacular job of maintaining my fitness last year. And I intend to improve on that. Can you guess what I’ll be taking with me? Indeed, I have a tracking app on my phone. I use it so I know how much I walked.

“You cannot manage what you don’t measure.”

After my walk I will settle down in my favorite café.

With a novel.

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  • Tanmay Vora

    Amen to that Jurgen, however the challenge is to ensure that metrics are simple and the systems designed to collect/assimilate these metrics are simple too. As with health, I think last few years, the metrics have become simpler and it is becoming easier to measure the vital metrics that give us an overall indication of where we stand.
    Thanks for that reminder and have a brilliant 2011.

  • Jurgen De Smet

    Watch out Jurgen, measurements are also encouraging dysfunction depending on the complexity of the system, the goals you want to achieve and how you measure one against the other. Be aware of the risks of putting up measurements 😉
    Have a nice walk.

  • ImproveFocus

    The quote “You cannot manage what you don’t measure.” is from Tom DeMarco. In this post, he tells some good things about the flipside of measuring, and the weaknesses of the statement.

  • Jamie

    This is absolutely not true. I manage to get drunk all the time without any measurements.
    I get your point, but you know in a complex world, you know the one, where we sense and probe and react, it’s difficult to measure. Ever managed a sports team? I know you can measure the number of victories, but dealing with people, knowing how they are moving forward, is partially unconscious. I wouldn’t waste my time measuring how I am getting on in relationships, unless you count the chemicals that are mapped to the cognitive dissonance I feel, they are a metric. Hard to measure, mind.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Of course.
    And walks in the city can also be risky, depending on the complexity of the city. 🙂

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for this addition!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Is it your goal to get drunk? If so that might explain your reply. 🙂
    True, measuring things is risky, and can easily be done wrong. Not measuring at all is even worse.
    I wonder if you would feel relaxed in an airplane after the pilot announces that he’s going to switch off all metrics in his cockpit.

  • Jacopo Romei

    “I wonder if you would feel relaxed in an airplane after the pilot announces that he’s going to switch off all metrics in his cockpit.”
    That sounds simplicistic from you. Airplane is more a complicated system than a complex one. We hope it has a predictable behaviour. And all the other passengers do. 🙂
    Jamie’s point – and other one’s too – is that a complex system don’t offer itself to *safe* measures. Indeed we still need a complex analyzer (our intellect) for their interpretation.
    But we all know you know, so… why am I here writing this? I should go, get a beer, get drunk and read my favourite novel! 🙂
    p.s. yesterday I was complaining with a friend of mine about my 2010 book reading trend, as reported by 😉 it’s fun!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Sorry, but I think you’re wrong. 🙂
    A flying airplane takes part in a complex system. Both the weather and air traffic are complex systems. True, only intelligent humans and not computers can manage such complex systems. But in order to do so, they need measurements…
    An airplane _standing still_ might be a complicated system. And even that is a simplification, because then you would be ignoring the microbes that are slowly eating the airplane…

  • StrategicTalk

    Great article. We will be reposting it on all our social media outlets.

  • Jacopo Romei

    Sorry but I think we have sophistry here 🙂
    “A flying airplane takes part in a complex system.” doesn’t say anything on its own complexity and still an automatic system can make it fly, indeed.
    The least we can say here is that the environment an aircraft is flown in really *is* complex, being at the intersection of air traffic, weather and microbes and likely many others.
    Happy new year! 🙂

  • Michael Harrington

    I think the airplane analogy is off. The metrics of an airplane are measuring physical things. These are things that can be compared mathematically and have well-defined units.
    But some very important aspects of development, like morale of your team, are simply intangible.
    It seems to me that airplanes also have a very obvious definition of what constitutes “success” and “failure” — if it crashes, you fail. With development, there are many dimensions of “success” and “failure”, they often conflict, and it isn’t always clear that there’s a right answer
    You also have to worry about what knobs you’re turning when you measure these things:
    In your book example, could you not see yourself gaming the system by choosing shorter books?
    Or undermining your original purpose by making reading feel like an obligation?
    Or perhaps you misunderstood “success” in this context as “reading more” rather than “enjoying my free time” and have stopped reading as much because you are doing something you like more instead?
    I wouldn’t completely avoid metrics, but I would be cautious.

  • Jacopo Romei

    @Harrington “I wouldn’t completely avoid metrics, but I would be cautious.” It sounds fine and we agree, as you may read. Here I’d just like to spend a word in favour of Jurgen, here missing just a metaphor and not the whole concept. That’s the *small* scope of my conversation here, OK? As with every person creating lots of metaphors, we can accept one or two less apt once in a while! 😉 We must be tolerant! Ciao!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    How about a different metaphor?
    When you work out, or involve yourself in any fitness/sports activities, wouldn’t you think measururing your own achievements is valuable?
    Why do agilists get so riled up about metrics?

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