If you can’t measure it…

It doesn’t have to be measured to be managed.
It doesn’t have to be measured to be improved.

Those two ideas of the necessity of measurement “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage/improve it” need to be done away with forever.
When I checked, Drucker and Deming never said them, though they are often attributed.  In fact they supported what I’m saying here.

It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.

– W. Edwards Deming

Let’s agree terminology first. If it’s not quantitative it’s not measurement.

Let’s also accept Hubbard’s premise that you can hang some sort of number on anything. But let’s stick to the spirit of the original quote “if you can’t measure it, you can’t…” which if you accept Hubbard then also implies some threshold of “good enough” to decide when you “cant”.

Then many things “can’t ” be measured except in some vague qualitative way. I listed them on another comment: morale, values, integrity, commitment, niceness, teamwork, innovation, …

Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.

– Donella Meadows


But what the original quote really meant was “if you’re not getting precise transactional data for a process…” Which is the other extreme of not at all complex. What it means is get your act together first to make it defined and repeatable. Which is also bollocks.

The saying is always used in the context of managing people and work, not technology. Tech requires precise data. Life isn’t a factory. If a manager is helpless without numbers, they’re not much of a manager. If your improvement programme can’t start until you’ve improved enough to have meaningful data, you have an impasse.

Data is just a tool. Like any tool, it makes us more efficient and/or effective. Like any tool, we can do without it if we have to.

Humans and human systems are not machines and cannot be managed in a mechanical way. Attempting to reduce such things to numbers is actively harmful by oversimplifying that which cannot be simplified without losing much of its value. This is the problem with Taylorism and Scientific Management.

Donella Meadows speaks of “dancing with the system”. Many – perhaps most – sense-making tools in a complex system don’t give us numbers, they give us narrative and consensus. There are no dials on a human.

You don’t NEED numeric measurement to see where your star is. It merely makes you more efficient and effective at tracking it.

Measurement actively reduces the value of a human system. Maybe it is “better” to be intentional, in terms of profit or dogma, but we lose the diversity and humanity of organic systems. Reality is organic, we only impose simple linear models on it, at our ultimate cost. Adaptability is more important to survival than achievement.