Jun 282012

How Many Thermometers Do You Need to Know the Turkey’s Done?

How Many Thermometers Do You Need to Know the Turkey’s Done?

Full credit to my colleague Jack Abbot for using this awesome phrase in an Engineering Management meeting I observed recently. It’s a gem. Filed!  The context was around spending extra cycles creating more metrics that basically measure the same thing. And in theory, sure, you don’t want or need to do that, even if you do have a cool data visualization tool that encourages metric proliferation.

But as I was thinking about it a bit more, I think there are situations where you might want multiple thermometers to tell you about the done-ness of the turkey.

First, sometimes you learn something by measuring the same thing in multiple ways.  Triangulation can be a beautiful thing.  Not only does it work for satellites, but think of a situation where you have a metric that is really made up of multiple underlying metrics.  Net Promoter Score is a good example.  Aren’t you better off knowing the number of Promoters and Detractors as well as the Net?

Second, sometimes redundant metrics aren’t bad if there is a potential failure of one of them.  For critical systems metrics that are measured in automated ways, sometimes automation fails. The second thermometer could be thought of as a backup.  You can have an internal web performance monitoring system, but wouldn’t you feel better with Keynote or Gomez as well, just in case your internal system fails?

Finally, sometimes metrics move between “lagging” and “leading,” which are fundamentally different and useful for different purposes. For example, we talk about sales in a couple different ways here.  There are bookings, which are forward-looking, and there is recognized revenue, which is backwards looking.  They are both about revenue.  But looking only at recognized revenue tells you nothing about the health of new business.  And looking only at bookings tells you very little about the current and next quarter.

Jack, thanks for this gem of a phrase, and for the thinking it provoked!