Measuring performance using single criteria

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Defining a single metric to measure the performance of a person or of a company will incentivize people to behave in ways that may not be aligned with the ultimate goals of the organization[@ridgway1956Dysfunctional Consequences of Performance Measurements].

In academia this is visible with the problems with citation-based metrics, because citation-based metrics incentivize competition over collaboration, and incentivize people to work in non risky fields (see: Scientific Exploration and Play).

There is an interesting anecdote in India, in which the British government offered money for dead cobras, as a way of eradicating them from cities. This, however, led people to breed them in order to collect the bounty, exactly the opposite from what the government wanted. This is called the cobra effect

There is a fun a anecdote of a programmer working for the Lisa project, Bill Atikinson, that submitted -2000 lines of code when he had to submit his monthly progress report[@hertzfeld1982-2000 Lines Of Code]. Shortly after, they stopped asking for the number of lines contributed.

In companies, some of the single-metrics that can be used are cost-per-product, profitability, overall production over set periods, like a month, and therefore neglecting maintenance, for example.


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Aquiles Carattino
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