by Leon Rosenshein

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

I goofed. One of the first things to do when you make a mistake is to acknowledge you were wrong. Back in September of 2021 I wrote a piece called Measurement where I listed a bunch of management quotes and said that it’s important to use the whole quote, not take part of the quote out of context. I believed that when I said it then, and I still feel that way now. However, I’ve recently been made aware that many of the quotes I’ve attributed to Peter Drucker weren’t actually said by him. I did a little digging, and if you can’t believe the Drucker Institute on what he didn’t say, who can you believe?

In this case, the quote was

What gets measured gets managed - even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so.

That was actually said by a someone commenting on a 1956 paper that criticized the first part of the statement. Which was the point of my post back in 2021, so I can feel good that I got that part right at least.

It turns out that what Drucker actually said was

Unless we determine what shall be measured and what the yardstick of measurement in an area will be, the area itself will not be seen.

That’s something different. Yes, it’s related to measurement, but has nothing to do with how people will respond to knowing that something is being measured. It has nothing to do with whether or not it’s something you should be measuring. What it’s saying is that you need to pick not only what you’re going to measure, but how you’re going to measure it. If you get either one of those wrong, you’re not going to see the reality of the situation you’re looking at.

If you’re not measuring what you think you’re measuring, what are you measuring? How are those measurements going to influence what people do? People work to control what is being measured. That’s a very common thing for people to do. However, if you’re measuring the wrong thing, you’re very likely to get a result that doesn’t move you towards the goal you said you were trying to achieve.

Consider measuring productivity. What does productivity mean? Sure, you could measure lines of code written, but that’s activity, not productivity. Measure lines written and you’ll get more lines written. Not necessarily good lines. Not efficient lines either. And there’s very little incentive to remove things that are bad. Probably not the result you want to achieve. You could measure tasks done, but that leads to lots of little tasks. Now taking many more smaller steps, and re-evaluating along the way, is a good thing, artificially dividing things up into tiny tasks and then just blindly doing them doesn’t get you a better result. Just because a task is done, was any value created or shared? And what does done mean anyway? A better way to measure productivity would be to somehow compare value delivered to users in a given time period. Of course, that’s easy to for me to say, but hard for you to determine. It’s hard because it depends on the context that you and your users are operating in. Get it wrong and you don’t get any visibility into the area you’re trying to measure.

Which is what Peter Drucker did say.