Control Means Measure!

All too often managers complain about the difficulty managing outcomes, people, or situations without taking a step back to think about what it is that they’re really trying to accomplish. They’ll work hard and put in long hours only to see no appreciable change in the things they’re trying to manage. Let me throw out two axioms.

  1. To control means to measure
  2. If you’re not measuring it, it isn’t important

Let’s look at that in a little bit more detail. (Yes, I’ll come to the logical inference later…)


A lot of managers approach problems like they might approach walking their dog. Fluffy will be jumping at the door wanting to go out to mark the neighborhood as his, but the plan isn’t much more specific. Sure there is an objective, there is an end in mind (you do want to end the walk back at home don’t you?), and there is a routine (organizational process assets). Getting that done doesn’t take much more than heading outside and monitoring the situation. Once the door is open, Fluffy will take off like a bolt, wander around, sniff at the trees, and the manager calls to Fluffy to make course corrections when things seem to go farther out of bounds than he’s expecting. Managing something more elaborate may have hundreds of tasks that all rely on each other to arrive at a satisfactory result. This means that simply making course corrections isn’t enough to ensure that we get Fluffy home – we need a plan and we need to know how well we’re executing against that plan.

The next time Fluffy wants to go out, we realize that it is -20 outside and we’re not in the mood to run around the neighborhood losing several toes to frostbite. This time, it is important that we manage the process, keep the walk as efficient as possible, and stop Fluffy from running amok. For this, we need to measure Fluffy’s performance and make corrections in an immediate or even proactive way— we’ll use a leash. The manager can make immediate corrections. Because this is important, we need to get constant feedback as Fluffy pulls on the lead.

Now for the nectar… and I love nectar.

If a problem is important to you, you need to have metrics in place if you’re going to have any ability to control it.

Think of all the things you’re responsible for in your daily work. These are the things that you’re expected to control and if you don’t have at least one measure assigned to each of them, the best you can do is call out hoping that it’ll come back in line. These needn’t be complicated or elaborate statistical measures, but you have to be able to answer two questions about each.

  • How do I know when it’s wrong? (Measure – Do I have a leash?)
  • How wrong can it be before I react and what will I do? (Threshold and mitigation – When and how can I pull on the leash?)

Do it now! Make a list of your dogs and identify your leashes.

If it is important to you, you have to be able to measure it so you can control it.