There’s value in a measure without measuring

I’m a big fan of having goals that are measurable. That’s usually in what I call a value statement, and it doesn’t just have to be done with numbers, either, nor to any great degree of precision. But being able to express a goal with a measure means we have driven out ambiguity, and communicating our intent without ambiguity is very powerful.

But sometimes measuring seems near-impossible. I remember one experience trying to measure workload within an organisation for a particular activity, and it was hugely frustrating. The project’s measure of success was about workload, so we thought we should try to actually do some measuring. But we found some tasks were split across multiple teams; often the load on an individual was fractional, and folded into other activities; it depended on so many variables. A colleague and I spent several hours getting nowhere and eventually gave it up as a bad job.

And yet even without being able to measure the workload to any useful degree, just knowing what the measurement was brought huge project benefits. Our project’s goal was expressed in measurable terms, and that meant—for example—people were able to make decisions large and small, quickly and easily. It was rarely controversial whether Option A or Option B would reduce workload more; almost all the the time people agreed instinctively. When we needed to test two ideas, in a more focused way, we knew exactly what we were testing for—we could assess workload for a focused part of the job, even if we couldn’t do it across the whole organisation.

Having a clear measure of success is a huge benefit to any project or programme. Actually measuring that success is also good, but it isn’t always essential.

Photo by Jimmy Edmonds