You Can Manage What You Can’t Measure

Author: · August 3, 2009 · Filed Under General  - 3 Comment(s)

It was good to see Tom DeMarco’s article in IEEE Computer magazine renouncing his famous statement, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”  My old friend and now departed co-author, Mike Evans, used to grumble that of course you could (and had to) manage things you couldn’t measure… In fact many things in a project are not measurable.  When Mike made this statement, invariably someone would blindly quote Tom DeMarco. 

In IEEE Computer, Tom’s article “Software Engineering, An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone”, points out that many things can be managed that can’t be measured.

“Can I really be saying that it’s OK to run projects without control or with relatively little control? Almost. I’m suggesting that first we need to select projects where precise control won’t matter so much. Then we need to reduce our expectations for exactly how much we’re going to be able to control them, no matter how assiduously we apply ourselves to control.”

Now please don’t misquote me on this topic.  Metrics are valuable for software projects as well as learning for the next one. But some of the items required to manage a project, such as morale, cannot be reduced to simple metrics.  Tom goes on to say:

So, how do you manage a project without controlling it? Well, you manage the people and control the time and money.

Tom says that perhaps software engineering’s time has come and gone.  This may be true for small, non-mission critical projects — hacking up a new web page or changing some simple application.  But generally, software is getting more, not less, complex.  Companies are suffering and spending up to 20% of their IT budgets on projects that are challenged or failed.  We need agile.  We need processes.  We need measurement and improvement in the industry.  And I agree wholeheartedly that projects should be those with the most business value.

Measure what matters.  Manage both measurable and unmeasurable elements.

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