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Measure the Distance

Worksheet Measure the Distance. Prompts: What are you doing? How will you know it worked? What flags would be useful?

This worksheet (PDF) is the closing exercise in Chapter 5 of How to Make Sense of Any Mess

This exercise is about getting tactical on how you will actually determine whether what you are doing is working. 

Why is this Important?

By setting goals and identifying how we will monitor and measure progress, we are getting real about realizing our intentions. 

excerpt from HTMSOAM:

Baselines help us stay in touch with reality. The first step in understanding how something is performing is to measure it as it is. Without baselines, assumptions will likely lead us in the wrong direction.

Here are two examples:

  • If a prominent department store saw quarterly profits increase by $1.5M after their Super Bowl ad, the ad may be seen as effective. But if the baseline of regular quarterly profit increase for this brand is typically $5.5M+ after a Super Bowl ad, we’d judge the ad differently.
  • Imagine an elementary school is reporting test scores averaging in the C+ range for the majority of their students. This may seem unimpressive, or even worrisome, until our baseline is introduced: average test scores this time last year were a D+.

When we have a baseline, we can judge performance. Without that, we may mistake the ad as successful and the teachers as incapable.



  • An indicator is a measurement or event used to monitor the operation or condition of something.
  • Flags are prescribed circumstances in which data is delivered. Flags are useful because they allow us to know when something important happens. We can attach a flag to most indicators.

Common indicators (via HTMSOAM)

  • Satisfaction: Are customers happy with what you’re delivering against your promises?
  • Kudos: How often do people praise you for your efforts or contributions?
  • Profit: How much was left over after expenses?
  • Value: What would someone pay for it?
  • Loyalty: How likely are your users to return?
  • Traffic: How many people used, visited, or saw what you made?
  • Conversion: What percentage of people acted the way you hoped they would?
  • Spread: How fast is word getting around about what you’re doing?
  • Perception: What do people believe about what you’re making or trying to achieve?
  • Competition: Who has similar intents to yours?
  • Complaints: How many users are reaching out about an aspect of your product or service?
  • Backlash: What negative commentary do you receive or expect?
  • Expenses: How much did you spend?
  • Debt: How much do you owe?
  • Lost time: How many minutes, hours, or days did you spend unnecessarily?
  • Drop-off: How many people leave without taking the action you hoped they would?
  • Waste: How much do you discard, measured in materials and time?
  • Murk: What alternative truths or opinions exist about what you’re making or trying to achieve?

When to use this…

  • This exercise is best conducted after your intention is set, but before you have invested too much of your energy into determining the ultimate solution.

Level Ups, Bonus Points, Brownie Points, Nerd Snipes

  • Make a Dashboard! If there is live data available for the points you are looking at, consider making a dashboard. 
  • Make a Visualization! If you have your baseline and goal set on things you can measure quantitatively, you have the perfect basis for some visualizations. Visual depictions of goal metrics can really cement things for people you might be working alongside, so this is a great investment of time once you have done an activity like the one above.