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The simple rule behind choosing metrics

I was speaking to someone about choosing the right metrics to track the success of a product earlier today, and we had defined what metrics ought to be important indicators of our product's success and were feeling quite happy about ourselves, when this question that was lurking at the back of my head came to the fore.

Would these metrics tell you what to do next?

I obsess over identifying and tracking the right metrics for everything I do, both at work and in my life outside of work. I track everything from the number of hours I sleep each day to the number of words I write each day.

But today was the first time that I actually thought deeply about that question of whether these metrics would tell me what to do next.

And I realised that in some cases they do and in some cases they don't.

For the products we build and work with every day, it is very important to answer this questions about the metrics we track and obsess over.

If what we are tracking cannot tell us what to do next, then they are simply vanity metrics.

For instance, I don't track the views and claps for my articles on Medium or social media shares because they don't tell me what to do next. While they are definitely a function of what I write, they are also a function of the time of day I write, the audience that comes across it that day, and so on. And they don't tell me what I can do next in terms of how I can improve my own writing.

Any metric that we pick ought to tell us what we can do next if it goes up or down in comparison to what we expect.

If it is lower than what we expect, it is feedback to us that some of the assumptions we had made in estimating and setting a target for that metric were wrong and need revisiting. If it is higher, again some of the assumptions were very conservative and we can be more demanding.

When picking metrics, first think about whether they will tell you what to do next depending on how they move. If not, don't bother tracking them as they will merely be a distraction.

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