How Good Are Your Data? (The Importance of Accurate and Complete Measurements)

We Can Not Improve What We Do Not Measure


People have been measuring things since the dawn of civilization. In today’s technology development world we spend a great deal of time building dashboards that seek to present meaningful data. Since corporate leaders use this data to make business decisions, it is imperative that we ensure the information we present is accurate and complete.
Problems we encounter while relating numerical values to things in the physical world are not new. William Thompson, better known as Lord Kelvin, spoke and wrote about this subject in detail. 

“… the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”

William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin (aka Lord Kelvin)

Lecture on “Electrical Units of Measurement” (3 May 1883), published in Popular Lectures Vol. I, p. 73

Lord Kelvin was speaking about the physical sciences, but the point seems applicable to 21st century technology development as well. Many of us have heard the part of this quote that essentially says, ‘You can not improve what you do not measure.’ After reading the entire quotation, I was struck by the fact that in the business world, we seem to have overlooked the ‘first essential step’, which is to find a quality connected with a subject and a practicable method of measurement.

So how are you doing in your world? Are your measurements accurate? Are they complete? Finally, do the things that we spend time and energy measuring matter in our business? Leave a comment to get the conversation started!

Bob Hubbard, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
AT&T | Technology Development
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