Articles 2 min read

Stop Measuring by Jardena London

Technology has given us the ability to measure everything, and we’ve become hooked like addicts.  Is all this measuring helping us or hurting us?  The paradox in measuring is that you can see measured improvement when you stop measuring.  But how will you know?

Let’s make a distinction here, quantification has revealed new insights and contributed to our understanding of the world, and I think that’s great.  The quantification I’m questioning is the type that is tracking us to death. Status reports track progress towards our goal, our Fitbit tracks our steps and we track the current value of bitcoin.

“Westerners …. responded to graphs and charts because quantification and measurement are the only things that seem real. — Joseph Jaworski

Measuring sucks the life out of our work.  That’s right, we lose sight of the joy of what we are doing and myopically focus on the little line on the graph.  When all our work is about the metrics, the workplace becomes a very drab place.

Measuring squashes innovation.  People stop taking risks for fear that the line on the graph might blip downward.  People stop engaging in any activity that doesn’t directly and immediately affect the metrics.  Innovation requires some serendipity, some messiness, and some incubation. The results of innovation are not always immediately measurable. If we live and die by our charts, we miss these opportunities.

Measuring creates rigidity.  The old adage says “plan the work, work the plan”, and subsequently track progress against plan.  Even the most Agile teams religiously work towards improving their team velocity and keeping their burndown chart looking healthy. What happens when we work to a plan? How open is the team to new possibilities?

Measuring promotes intrinsic motivation.  The argument by Theory X managers is that measuring “lights a fire under people.”  Does this really work and is it sustainable? In his book Drive, Daniel Pink tells a story about kids who like to paint pictures and did so every day at recess.  When offered 25 cents per picture, initially they cranked out more pictures than ever before.  But within a few weeks, they had lost interest in painting altogether and started to engage in other activities at recess.  
The story shows the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  The definition of extrinsic is “not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.”  Studies have shown that when people are motivated extrinsically, such as through measurement or payment, it creates a short-term increase but long-term it negatively impacts motivation.  

Measuring creates fragmentation.  The secret to effectively productivity is in the connections. It’s the spaces between the work that have the greatest uncertainty and also the greatest opportunity.  When we excessively measure the work, it drives organizations back to scientific management from the industrial age, that we can break things into tiny fragments and measure each one for improvement of the whole.  Today’s world has gone past complexity and into chaos, and chaos cannot be managed by fragmentation.

“The attempt to suppose that measure exists prior to man and independently of him leads, as has been seen, to the ‘objectification’ of man’s insight so that it becomes rigidified and unable to change, eventually bringing about fragmentation and general confusion. — David Bohm

How has measurement affected your work life? Let us know!

The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with WorkBytes.

Hear it first

Stay up to date with our latest content and events

Watch, read or listen to content from the brightest leaders across the world of People, Process & Technology.

Find out about the latest events across Europe

Network with like-minded professionals in your industry

Find and apply for the best jobs

See content that you like?

Share your experience by joining your exclusive roundtables, or contribute to our content like industry peers.

Get involved