I measure, therefore I manage

data schematicTo conclude our current discussion of “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” to its end point, let’s consider the consequences of taking this too literally- “I measure, therefore I manage”

There is an industry now for collecting data, massaging it, producing charts or spreadsheets – for others to use.  So how much time is spent finding out whether the data is actually used and appreciated?  Is there a process for following through the decisions made on the basis of that information to see how the data could be improved?

What can we do to improve our management?

Deming was, of course, a great believer in the value of metrics and statistical analysis, but even he realised that there was more to management than metrics and stated that one of the seven deadly diseases of management is running a company on visible figures alone.

A great example of the dangers of so doing can be drawn from the electricity company that decided to withdraw from service its most recent (and thus most efficient) coal fired plant only two thirds into its life and to build a new power plant using a new and untested coal source – because their model told them to!  Questioning revealed that neither the modeller nor anyone else knew what was causing the model to generate its results.

Many a works system is designed to determine when works should be carried out. Inevitably this is based on the designer’s best knowledge and judgement at the time. But what if circumstances change?  What alerts us to the fact that there IS a change? Do we know enough to make adjustments? Are we critically analysing the output of the system or do we take the system outputs for granted?

Question:  Do you have examples of where measurement has led us astray?

2 Thoughts on “I measure, therefore I manage

  1. Great series of articles Penny. My pet hate is the way councils almost all undertake customer surveys asking them to rate the importance of and satisfaction with (or performance of) a range of services. This is gaining traction as a meaningful measure of community satisfaction with services and therefore priorities for resource allocation… despite the fact that, invariably in my experience, these councils hear that their roads are highest importance / lowest satisfaction… whatever the condition of their roads is and whatever amount they spend on them!

    Another survey I saw (I think it was from Victoria) measured satisfaction with roads based on the number of complaints (even worse when a “target” is set, say no more than 6 complaints per month!).

    Like the discussion of benchmarking 24 May, this is dubious numbers masquerading as “management” / community engagement. Real engagement demands that we help the community to understand the implications of their decisions e.g. they may not like the state of their roads, but there’s a need to ask them if they are willing to pay more for better roads. Also, we need to explain the need for roads spend some time in the latter stages of life (or it will cost more over the lifecycle if renewed early)

    Then there’s libraries: they’re almost invariably low importance / high satisfaction… across the community generally! What’s missing from this “measurement” is any recognition that (as I found at the council I worked at when we drilled down) that 8% of people rated libraries as one of the top 3 uses of councils resources (i.e. a measure averaged across the community was deceptive: a portion of the community things quite differently and budgets shouldn’t be allocated on a “mob rules” basis).

    Such analysis is very interesting, but will suffer if we don’t take note of the things you raise in this series – good stuff.

  2. I agree completely Ben. There has been significant change in all levels of government from a focus on governance (doing the correct thing as determined by science or policy) to a focus on acceptance (keeping people happy, or least displeased). There is much talk of accountability and transparency. Improper metrics that deal with public inquiry and complaint influence governance negatively and sap resources from the doing of work to the explaining of why work was done. Necessary evils are deferred to more appropriate times, such as never.

    We need to make our public policy more dynamic, attainable and practical so that decisions can be made by public servants without undue regard to populist outrage. Where we employ people to use their judgement they should be allowed to do so.

    Minimising complaint is minimising governance in Australia. Education of the population and politicians is a significant factor.

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