What is measurement?

What is measurement? You can watch this post on video instead of reading if you like video.


A big part of our work in business, especially if you have any interaction with governance, risk, and compliance is needing to make estimates about uncertain outcomes. Situations where there are significant unknowns.

Previously we talked about the idea that measurement is reduction of uncertainty, and so part of your job when making estimates is to figure out what you DO know and use that information to make a better estimate.

Most professionals are overconfident in their estimates

People are funny, as soon as they are done telling you how hard it is to make good estimates, they will turn around and make an estimate that is overconfident.

Overconfident has a specific meaning: it means that the amount of uncertainty is underestimated. So for example someone might estimate that the project is going to be finished in 6 months, while an estimate with a 90% chance of being correct is that the project will be finished within 6 to 8 months.

The good news is that just like you can calibrate instruments, you can train your brain about where you are overconfident or underconfident, and with a bit of practice you can significantly improve the quality of your estimates.

A full calibration session only takes a couple of hours. I got trained as a calibration facilitator by Douglas Hubbard via Hubbard Decision Research, and we do this calibration with our clients at Kindly Ops when working to estimate cybersecurity or other operational risk scenarios.

My favorite technique from that training is Klein’s pre-mortem exercise. After making your initial estimate, ask yourself: “assume my estimate is wrong - in what way is it most likely to be wrong?”

This simple self-hack is surprisingly effective at helping you improve the quality of your estimates.

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