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The intersection of technology and leadership

Quotes on metrics and numbers

I published an article a few years ago, called “An Appropriate Use of Metrics.Martin Fowler, who hosts the article, tells me that it receives good regular readership. As someone who has been working as a consultant, I’m aware of how an inappropriate use of metrics can really incentivise the wrong behaviour, destroy company and team cultures and drive incongruent behaviours between teams and people.


Source: From Flickr under the Creative Commons licence.

In this post, I thought it’d be worth sharing a few quotes around numbers and metrics. I’ll leave you to decide where they may or may not be useful for you.

Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave.

Source: Eliyahu M. Goldratt (Father of the Theory of Constraints) from “The Haystack Syndrome” (1980).

What can be counted doesn’t always count, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Source: Often attributed to Einstein but the Quote Investigator suggests crediting William Bruce Cameron (1963).

Not all that matters can be measured.

Commentary: An alternative form to that above often attributed to Einstein.

What gets measured gets done, or What gets measured gets managed.

Source: According to this blog, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive source.

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

Source: W. Edwards Deming from “The New Economics.”

(One of the Seven Deadly Diseases of Western Management) Management by use only of visible figures, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable.

Source: From W. Edwards Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases of Western Management.

Data (measuring a system) can be improved by 1) distorting the system 2) distorting the data or 3) improving the system (which tends to be more difficult though likely what is desired).

Source: Brian Joiner via the article, “Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of Data.

The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable.

Source: Lloyd Nelson (Director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation) via Deming’s book, “Out of the Crisis.”

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Source: Also known as Goodhart’s Law phrased by Marilyn Strathern.

If you can’t measure it, you’d better manage it.

Source: Management consultant, Henry Mintzberg

People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.

Source: W. Edwards Deming. No concrete source found except for Brainyquote.

3 Comments

  1. I would be interested in how your metric is related to Tom Gilb’s work. See his book and presentations about metrics. It is difficult to come up with anything new in this subject after his work 🙂

  2. Really interesting read. Thank you for taking the effort to collect the quotes!

  3. I can’t remember this exactly (neither the origin) but it went like this: “the only reason to measure many things is that you can always show to your managers few metrics that went up”

    And BTW. there is this book “How to measure anything” by Douglas Hubbard. Good one.

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