A week ago I wrote a post concerning metrics that generated quite a stir – as anything regarding metrics always does. My web site took a huge number of hits, the article and the chart it contained was widely spread around the Internet, and I had greater interest than ever in my 1 Day Assessment program from people wanting to know if it includes an in depth analysis of their metrics. It does – but way, way way too much focus is being put on the subject, and I would not devise a comprehensive set of metrics to enable management to measure everything they think is important if I could.
Whether he penned it himself, or plagiarized it and had it put on the wall of his office, Albert Einstein is credited with:
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts
He could have been talking about manufacturing metrics when he came up with it.
Metrics are useful data points that, when balanced with common sense and deep knowledge of the complicated processes they purport to measure, can yield insights. Taken alone they are almost useless.
Metrics can become the crutch professional (meaning inexperienced, unqualified but long on theoretical knowledge) managers use to run businesses they do not really understand.
Metrics can become the manifestation of 'managing by the numbers', striving to reduce everything in an incredibly complicated factory down to simple numbers - some say it is to eliminate the possibility of poor decisions as a result of inevitable human bias and error – I say it is to avoid responsibility for the results of decisions. "Fact based decision making" can become an excuse for not making decisions at all - there are never enough facts, so decisions can be postponed indefinitely while more facts are endlessly developed.
How well a process or a person is performing can never be expressed comprehensively or accurately with arithmetic alone. To put too much importance on metrics often leads the organization to manage the metrics, rather than the value adding activities the metrics are supposed to measure.
So let's keep refining and tracking our metrics, but let's keep them in perspective. Like Einstein said, just because you have a metric doesn't necessarily mean it is an important number, but most of all, there are many aspects of your business critical to your success that you cannot put a number on.