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Metrics pollution and how to avoid it

Thoughts Jun 11, 2023

I believe that in today's product development landscape, there is a prevailing culture driven by metrics. It all started with good intentions - the desire to make data-driven decisions rather than relying on hunches. However, over time, I have realized that this approach has become counterproductive.

As digital products became more prevalent, product managers began placing increasing importance on metrics. It wasn't just a slight uptick in their usage; it was a significant shift. Now, every single user interaction in popular apps is meticulously tracked - from the tiniest button click to the length of time a user spends gazing at a particular element.

This surge in metrics-driven decision-making was largely driven by the mantra that "you can't improve what you don't measure". While this is true, the reverse is not always valid. Simply measuring something does not automatically guarantee improvement.

What I'm talking about is what I call "metrics pollution." People measure everything they can think of, hoping to find insights and make improvements. But in reality, most of the time, those metrics are useless and don't tell us much. And even if you try to analyze them, you often realize that there's something important you missed tracking.

So, here's my takeaway from this frustration: before you start collecting metrics, have a clear plan. Know what you want to learn from the data and how you will use it to improve your product. Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of meaningless metrics cluttering your dashboard, making it hard to find the ones that matter.

I've seen this happen too many times. Product managers get excited about a new feature and ask engineers to track every possible interaction. But when the feature is launched, they don't know what to do with all the data they collected because they didn't have a plan from the beginning. Those metrics just sit there, gathering dust, and making it even harder to find the useful ones.

In conclusion, the obsession with metrics in product development needs to be more thoughtful. We should focus on tracking the right things and having a clear purpose for each metric. Otherwise, we end up drowning in useless data and missing the insights that can truly improve our products.


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