Small, Medium and Large or Low, Average  and High?

Lots of ways to measure

Measurement proliferation is when organizations decide that everything can should be measured therefore there is a rapid increase in measures and metrics. There are at least two measurement proliferation scenarios, and they both have as great of a chance of destroying your measurement program as helping it.  The two scenarios can be summarized as proliferation of breadth (measuring everything), followed by proliferation of depth (measuring the same thing many ways).

There are many items that are very important to measure, and it’s difficult to restrain yourself once you’ve started.  Because it seems important to measure many activities within an IT organization, many measurement teams think measuring everything is important.  Unfortunately, measuring what is really important is rarely easy or straightforward. When organizations slip into the “measure everything” mode, often times what gets measured is not related to the organization’s target behavior (the real needs).  When measures are not related to the target behavior, it will be easy to breed unexpected behaviors (not indeterminate or unpredictable, just not what was expected).  For example, one organization determined that the personal capability was a key metric.  More capability would translate into higher productivity and quality.  During the research into the topic, it was determined that capability was too difficult or “touchy-feely” to measure directly. The organization decided that counting requirements were a rough proxy for systems capability, and if systems capability went up, it must be a reflection of personal capability.  So, of course, they measured requirements.  One unanticipated behavior was that the requirements became more granular (actually more consistent), which caused the appearance that increased capability that could not be sustained (or easily approved) after the initial baseline of the measure.

The explosion of pre-defined measures drives the second proliferation scenario, having too many measures for the same concept. Capers Jones mentioned a number of examples in my interview with him for SPaMCAST.  Capers caught my imagination with the statement that there are many functional metrics are currently in use, ranging from IFPUG function points to cosmic; with use case points, NESMA function points and others in between.  This is in addition to counting lines of code, object and ants.  The fracturing in the world of functional metrics has occurred for many reasons, ranging from a natural maturation of the measurement category to the explosion of information sharing on the web. Regardless of the reason for the proliferation, using multiple measures for the same concept just because you can, can have unintended consequences. Having multiple measures for the same concept can cause focus making the concept seem more important than it is. Secondly having multiple measures may send a message that no one is quite sure how to measure the concept which can lead to confusion by the casual observer.  Generally this no reason to use multiple methods to measure the same concept within any organization. Even if each measure was understood, proliferation of multiple measures to measure the same concept will waste time and money. An organization I recently observed had implemented IFPUG Function Points, Cosmic Function Points, Use Case Points and Story Points to measure software size. This organization had spent the time and effort to find a conversion mechanism so that each measure could be combined for reporting. In this case the proliferation metrics for the same concept had become an ‘effort eater.’ Unfortunately it is not uncommon to see organizations trying to compare the productivity of projects based on very different yardsticks rather than adopting a single measure for size. The value of measurement tends to get lost when there is no common basis for discussion. A single measure will provide that common basis.

Both the proliferation of breadth and of depth have upsides, everybody gets to collect, report and use their favorite measure, and downsides, (which sound very similar) everybody gets to collect, report and use their favorite measures.  Extra choices come at a cost: the cost of effort, communication and compatibility.  The selection of measures and metrics must be approached with the end in mind – your organization’s business goals.  Allowing the proliferation of measures and metrics, whether in depth or breadth, must be approached with great thought, or it will cost you dearly in information and credibility.