Don’t aim at the target

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Without numerical measures we wouldn’t know what to do. The problem is, when numerical measures are used as targets they cause people to think their sole purpose is to achieve them, usually to the detriment of everything else. When managers own the targets and use them to force performance they bring out the wrong behaviors. People cut corners to meet the targets. And targets are everywhere. We blinker ourselves to everything except our targets and forget about the real needs of users. In pursuit of our targets we make
local optimizations that are suboptimal for the throughput of the whole system, the wider organization.

Measures should reflect the true purpose of the people doing the work, which is to improve service and quality and satisfy users, and should therefore measure the improvements directly experienced by users. These people are in the best position to decide how to improve quality and performance and they should own the measures and use them to understand their work as a system. As part of a plan-do-check-act cycle, they should study the actual results of changes aimed at improvement, comparing them to expectations, analyzing the differences to determine cause, and then identify further opportunities to improve the system.

Managers shouldn’t use their measures as targets to control our performance. Instead, we should use our measures to continuously improve how we work so that our system performs better.

Simon Baker
Simon Baker
Simon Baker is chief swashbuckler at Energized Work, a guerrilla technology lab based onboard HMS President in London. Simon cofounded Energized Work and in 2009 received the Agile Alliance Gordon Pask Award. He speaks internationally about applying agile and lean principles and techniques in business, software development, and information technology. With 22 years experience delivering software in the media, retail, healthcare, financial services and banking sectors, Simon is a leader doing things differently to find out what matters and get the right things done in the right way. He isn't afraid to question conventional thinking and disrupt the status quo. Simon feels strongly that work shouldn't feel like work and he has a track record creating exciting working conditions that help people change the way they deliver software for the better.

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