To manage we must measure!

Relevance is necessary but not sufficient.

Story category: Organization

Story tags: control loop, OODA loop, decision making

The topic of this story is about the importance of measurement and the importance of measuring the right things.


For a control loop to be effective there must be relevant, correct, and timely feedback on the current state of the controlled variable; without this information effective decision making is impossible. 


Let’s unpack this statement a bit further:


Controlled variable: this is the thing you try to control (achieve, maintain, maximize, minimize, optimize, …).


Current state: the “as is” state of a variable at present.


Relevant feedback: this means that the feedback must be relevant to the thing you are trying   to achieve (getting the controlled variable to a certain value).


Correct feedback: this means that we must understand the actual state of the controlled variable.


Timely feedback: this means that we must get the feedback in time.


A short story to put all of this into context. Where I used to live, the local water governance agency, would measure the quality of water routinely. They had a list of about 20 indicators to measure water quality that they were using already for approximately 20 years. They indicators would always show good scores. 


No problem, right? Except that there were problems. 


After investigative journalism sank their teeth into the issue it was discovered, that since the creation of the list of 20 indicators, new factories were setup in the area that were polluting the water with chemicals that were not being measured with the indicator profile. Old factories that were part of the measurement profile were no longer active.




1) If you can’t measure the current state of reality, you can’t manage whatever you are trying to control; in this case it was the quality of water.


2) If your measurements are not relevant to the thing you are trying to control then it cannot not be effective; in this case they were measuring on an outdated profile.


3) When what you measure is not relevant then correctness and timeliness do not matter.


4) Timeliness is crucial, as when measurement and reporting are too far apart, too early, too late, or updates to the measurement system itself are done too late, effective management is not possible.


Let the variable under control determine what you need to measure, and continuously ask yourself if what you are measuring is relevant, correct, and timely. This means that you don’t determine what you need to do, but you need to discover what needs to be done.


I’m afraid that here again we must mention ego. Ego tells us we are right. Its not about being right, its about being in line with reality. When reality changes, we need to change our perception with it.

Target fixation is another issue. Target fixation happens when we fix our attention on something and loose sight of the surroundings and what is happening outside of the narrow area of focus. This was also the issue with the example of the water quality.

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