Last weekend I went to see the Adam Curtis and Massive Attack event, which was part of the Manchester International Festival. This was an audio/visual film (or Glim – Gig integrating with a film) about the fake enchanting modern world which we live in today.

One of the ideas that grabbed my attention was that much of the modern world is built on numbers (or metrics), this ranges from financial planning/investments through to behaviour of political parties. The flaw in this idea is that metrics are always based upon the past actions and not the future, which leads to a future-phobic outlook and ‘safe’ decision making.

It was also mentioned that usage of metrics can also build up a fantasy world that bares no resemblance to reality, for example the financial metrics that allowed companies such Enron and Lehman Brothers to appear strong and competent.

This got me thinking about the lean/agile reliance upon metric driven development, is it possible that the more we engage in metric driven development, the more we are also entering our own fantasy world?

Yes and No.

At one of my workplaces there was an absolute obsession with Conversion Rate, if it ever went down compared to the previous year then it MUST be due to something wrong in the website. So, for instance if 100 people made a purchase on the first Saturday this year then at least 100 people should be making a purchase on the first Saturday next year. Seems logical doesn’t it?

But what if next January is much warmer and more people decide to go out rather than buying items online? Or perhaps there is a major internet outage on the Saturday that stops all of Asia accessing your site. It’s not straightforward is it?

However, a great number of development teams do not use ANY metrics, decisions on new development are made by gut feel of the owner or company ‘expert’, making it impossible to measure success. This is surely a worse situation, that brings to mind a line from Brass Eye:

“there’s no actual evidence for it, but it’s scientific fact”.

However, we must be careful to not let metrics stifle innovation, sometimes crazy ideas pay off (this company is worth over $2 million).