Project Management

What Matters Won’t Measure

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

We very often fetishize measurement, without really understanding what it does for us.

In business schools and boardrooms alike, it is a mantra bordering on religious invocation that “what gets measured gets managed.” If we care about something, the act of measuring will ensure that it is attended to. Just as suggested in the Hawthorne Effect, the focusing of attention signals that something is important. Measure it, then, and that something should improve.

This prompts its own cautionary tale, though. If what we measure prompts change, then we have to be careful what we evaluate, so that attention is focused on those things that are most meaningful and important. As a consequence, we are exhorted to “measure what matters.” We should be crystal clear about our objectives and the changes that we want. The results that we then evaluate should directly and fully demonstrate attainment of those outcomes.

Inevitably, then, we become firmly entrenched in the world of “key performance indicators.” Not just indicators that provide some form of measurement about your organization. Not just performance indicators, indicating how your organization is doing against some significant dimension. These are the key performance indicators, those theoretically select few that once again matter most about how you, your team, your process, your …

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"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

- Mark Twain