The metric is not the goal

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Asides / OKRs

Great articulation by Mike Davidson in his reflection of being one year at Microsoft:

Our north star is at least pretty pure — Daily Active Users — and that metric is usually a good indicator that you’ve made something people like, but doctrinaire allegiance to almost any singular metric can quickly make people forget why we are in this profession to begin with: to improve lives. Or to put it squarely in Microsoft parlance again: to help every person and organization on the planet achieve more.

If you ever find yourself asking the question “how can we increase Daily Active Users?” instead of “how can we make our product better for people?”, you’ve already lost. Metrics are trailing indicators of qualitative improvements or degradations you’ve made for your customers… they are not the point of the work.

One year at Microsoft » Mike Industries

It’s a great reminder that a KPI is an indicator of value (it says it right on the tin), not the value itself. In large companies, we have created sophisticated systems that drive those indicators that it’s sometimes easy to confuse them. If you work at Microsoft, the easiest way to drive monthly active users is to pre-pin your app on the Windows task bar. Which is when the metric stops being an indicator of customer value. Or as Goodhart’s law states it:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”

Goodhart’s law – Wikipedia

Coming up with good metrics and keeping them fresh (speak: preventing them from being gamed) continues to be hard.

Hat tip to Isaac for pointing me to Mike’s post.

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