If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Really?

WikipediaGetting through blogs, forums and other experts’ chats, you’d notice that Building Management System manufacturers, IPMVP experts, Energy Auditors, and more generally most of Energy Efficiency Project Managers keep saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” If I do believe and know that information is key to successfully implement Energy Efficiency measures, I simultaneously think that measurement can be necessary but it’s never sufficient.

Let’s reflect about this interesting subject quoting the excellent Liz RYAN‘s article called “The Three Biggest Lies Told in Business”:

It’s a funny thing about measurement – as technology advances and measuring instruments become more precise, the results of our measurements change dramatically. The first person to measure the coastline or Britain (or anywhere), for instance, got a much lower number in his measurement exercise than a surveyor would find today. When we measure the coastline of Britain with a fine enough instrument, we will find that it is infinite (though bounded), the same way cosmologists believe our universe to be.

Measurement itself is a very flawed — or I should say, evolving – science. Funnily enough, some of the things that we can measure with the most precision, like time (measured in impossibly small increments by ever-sharper Atomic Clocks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, just down the hill from me) are made up things anyway. Time isn’t even real, just a handshake across countries, but we treat it like a sacred object, and we even say “Time is money.”

So measurement kind of sucks to begin with, and then our choices about what to measure at work turn out to be the things that have the least to do with anything important. We measure output in rows and columns. We measure what time someone arrives at work and what time they leave, in case our customers give a shiz about that, rather than about whether the customer got what they need from us. We measure ridiculous things like how long it takes to hire a new person once a job requisition is approved (HR folks call that yardstick Time to Fill) when we should be viewing the recruiting process as the wave function it is – no particles needed, if we’re always watching the supply-and-demand talent waves ebb and flow, if we can break out of Particle World and Measurement Land long enough to see the wave crests and troughs and make use of them.

We measure all the wrong stuff, and we teach working people that the measurement of everything and everyone is the whole point of the job. That is sick, sick, sick. People bring ingenuity, creativity, wisdom, pluck and a hundred other rare and immeasurable gifts to the job, and we say “Nah, we can’t see that stuff, so it must not exist. We’d rather evaluate you based on our irrelevant yardstick.” We are addicted to yardsticks in the workplace, and it hurts us in employee buy-in, trust, the physical and mental health of our teams and in a hundred other ways, all of which have negative effects on our customers, market share, earnings per share and every metric we care about. How stupid is that?

The most important things to observe, reflect on, celebrate, cultivate and reinforce at work – things like momentum, energy, passion, trust and innovation – don’t lend themselves to the 19th-century yardsticks we love. If we don’t nurture these things, they’ll shrivel and die. How can we nurture them if we don’t see them, don’t talk about them and pretend they don’t exist? Let’s get rid of the Measurement First mentality in honor of the turn of the new millennium, only thirteen years ago. We’re just in time!

I have already experienced so many different projects where people set up measurement before knowing how to prove Energy Savings. I see measurement as a tool, a mean to collect more thorough data in order to get to know what is the amount of energy saved. Sometimes, it’s required, sometimes it’s not (see IPMVP’s option D for instance).

Next time, we’ll delve into what is required to determine an Energy Saving and how to get it.


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