Friday, October 14, 2016

Metrics and unintended consequences

In the online "Cross Talk -- Journal of Defense Software Engineering" for Sept Oct 2016 there is a an article entitled "Positive Influences and Unintended Consequences" by Rob Ashmore and Mike Standish of the U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

On the general topic of metrics, they make the point that generally all metrics have unintended consequences. (No news there; I think we can all agree with that. In my parlance: For every measure, there is a counter-measure. To which there is a counter-counter measure .... ) And to make their case, they cite observations by other researchers of U.K. public sector organizations that the consequences can be grouped into eight distinct types:

Tunnel vision, when management focuses on quantified aspects of performance rather than overall quality.
Sub-optimization, where narrow, local objectives are prioritized over the wider objectives of the organization as a whole.
Myopia, which involves the pursuit of short-term targets at the expense of legitimate long-term objectives or outcomes.
Measure fixation, where managers focus on the metric, rather than the objective for which the metric was developed.
Misrepresentation, where the reported metrics do not match the behavior on the ground.
Misinterpretation, where those to whom the metrics are reported make incorrect or inappropriate decisions.
Gaming, where behavior is deliberately altered so as to exploit loopholes in the measurement system.
Ossification, where an overly rigid measurement system prevents innovation.

To combat these phenomenon they introduce and explain a tool which is really just a cause-effect diagram that closes on itself -- closed loop. A "causal circle" of sorts. Read the article for more detail.

 I can't fault them on that idea. I've been preaching for years that closed loop systems are the only stable systems, and that goes for communications generally, measurements specifically.

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog