Monday, April 14, 2008

Metrics Gone Wrong: Body Count

From the Washington Post, and which also I heard on the radio this morning, the Colombian army finds a twisted method to meet their performance metrics:

But under intense pressure from Colombian military commanders to register combat kills, the army has in recent years also increasingly been killing poor farmers and passing them off as rebels slain in combat, government officials and human rights groups say. The tactic has touched off a fierce debate in the Defense Ministry between tradition-bound generals who favor an aggressive campaign that centers on body counts and reformers who say the army needs to develop other yardsticks to measure battlefield success.
This is the most extreme example of how a metric intended to track progress toward a goal becomes a measure of performance for the implementers. Focussed on the finger pointing at the moon, rather than the moon itself, the implementers manage the metric but undermine the goal. I don't believe this behavior is uncommon. I saw this sort of behavior in a past life as a fraud examiner. An individual forged a stack of documents, because he understood more documents were good for the company, their legitimacy only an inconvenience.


Anonymous said...

Love the Columbian army example, but do metrics ever go RIGHT? Don't teachers always focus on kids doing well on "the state test" at the expense of teaching them to do math? When we hold a vendor to number of installed workstations, are we surprised that they put a kiosk in the bathroom? I bet one of the guys crucified with Jesus was just "thrown in" to meet somebody's numbers.
Not the Beavis & Butthead Guy

Dutcher Stiles said...

Exactly, Mr. NTB&BG.

I think they go exceptionally wrong when tied to performance, which they inevitably are. One people figure out where the slaps on the back come from, they'll juke that stat until the stat is juked.