Measure Up

Aug. 14, 2003
Metrics propel people, plants, and professional lives

That which is not measured cannot be controlled. Those words or their equivalent come early in every good Business, Economics, and Process Control 101 course, and have been driven home by experts from Jack Stack to Alan Greenspan to Bela Liptak.

At the ARC Forum in June, I heard what to me was a novel and interesting spin on the principle. "Be careful what you ask for, and make sure its really what you want," said Andy Chatha, ARC president. "Its human nature to strive to improve measurements, and people will do anything to make their numbers."

This point was driven home to me the other day as I was driving home with my 11-year-old son. Id just refilled the gas tank and, as is my wont, reset the average MPG indicator. As we left the station, the indicated average rose rapidly, then leveled off, fell, and rose again as we negotiated the stops and hills on our route.

My son was fascinated, and demanded a brief explanation of why the reading was so low, how high it could go, and how to make it get there. As soon as he understood, he started issuing orders. "Slow down!" he said. "Dont stop! Cant you get it up to 22 before we get home?"

"Measurement changes behavior," wrote Bill McKibben in the January/February issue of Orion. McKibben recently purchased a Honda Civic hybrid and became so obsessed with beating his previous record on the MPG gauge he found himself talking a policeman out of issuing him a ticket for coasting through stop signs. "What if your electric meter was mounted in your kitchen where you could watch it spin? And what if your thermostat gave you an updated oil consumption readout every time you went to turn it up? What if your faucet showed you how much water youd used in the past day, and how it differed from your annual average?" he wrote.

"Would you change your behavior? I think you likely would,that youd reach for a sweater if it was just a tad chilly around the house, that the average shower would get a little shorter. Not because you cared about the environment, or even about the money you were burning in your furnace but because,well, because its a number and our instinct is to improve it, to notch it up."

Good politicians, operations managers, and engineers are familiar with the value of directing peoples attention to the metrics that they believe really count. Martins presentation (and the ARC Forum in general) described emerging methods and technologies for getting those numbers right up on peoples control stations and desktops,their workday dashboards,where they can be constantly aware of them.

While were thinking about whats really important and how to measure it, how about your personal and professional development? Do you have a mental health-o-meter, a stature gauge, or a walletometer that could use some attention? Any or all of those could be improved by sending us a submission for our new guest column, "Tales From the Front" (p16). Were looking for true stories about a process control-related problem youve solved; a sage observation about plants, people, and process control; a technical detail you want to share with 70,000 others. The subject is up to you. Youll know youre on track if you can write about 900 words that you as a process control end user, systems integrator, or consultant would like to read in CONTROL.

Every other month, we publish the best column weve received to date and mail the author a check for $500. Send your questions (or your column) to me at the address below.

See if you cant kick it up a notch.

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