Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are they metrics or are they numbers?

In recent discussions about metrics, I've been wondering about the apparent fascination with metrics.

Each metric is a number.  Each is a measure of some activity, some process.  

But what do we do with the metric/number once we have it?

All too often, I see discussions devolving into how the number is derived or where it comes from or what the right unit is.  And I truly wonder if we like the metric or if we like the number. 

A metric is simply an indicator, a gauge of some activity we deem important.  A number, on the other hand, is an arithmetic construct which can be averaged, summed, square-rooted and put into a spreadsheet. 

To fix a metric requires going to see a process to understand what really makes it work.  To fix a number requires analysis, averaging, summing, square-rooting, spreadsheeting. 

Processes are messy.  They usually involve people.  They don't always respond the way we expect.  

Numbers are clean.  They are usually abstract.  They average and sum and square root the way we expect, so long as our spreadsheet formulae are correct. 

Processes deliver product.  Numbers don't.

Is the fascination with numbers merely another example of taking the path of least resistance? 


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