Is This Quantified?

Managers don’t ask their directs enough tough questions, says Tom Gilb (Wikipedia), one of my favorite authors on product development. They need training to ask these questions, just as they’ve been trained on other mission-critical aspects of their roles.

A key message in Gilb’s presentations, books, and posts is that numbers make benefits, advantages, and quality easier to understand. They are the basis for measurement, control, and improvement.

This makes sense. After all, adaptive planning, iterative development, early delivery, and continuous improvement are in the heart of agile processes and practices. None of them can exist or work without quantification.

If that is true, then why is it that we all too often read words like “improved,” “enhanced,” and “better” in strategic plans, product roadmaps, and status meetings used without any numbers to back them? Perhaps because it’s easier to claim an improvement than to measure it. But that doesn’t make an excuse for not doing it.

The next time you hear an improvement-related adjective without the numbers to back it, simply ask:

How is this improvement quantified?

Its author must be able to replace it by two numeric points on a scale of measure, your as-is state, and your to-be state in the near future. Only then does “significantly improved service reliability” turn into “99% uptime this year compared to 92% in Q3.”