Metrics program are becoming very common in several areas, and more and more decision making is based on them. The idea of founding decision on numbers or evidence is appealing, though it hides several risks.
Here I collected a few quotes and pointers for further reading.
Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I behave.
When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Also linked is the concept of Perverse incentive.
An interesting read in the context of software engineering is:
An Appropriate Use of Metrics: http://martinfowler.com/articles/useOfMetrics.html
A few real historical anecdotes about misuses of individual indicators and incentives:
The cobra effect
During the British rule in India. In Delhi, officials were concerned that there were too many cobras. To reduce their population, people were paid for each cobra killed. When the administrators found out that some people had started to breed cobras to kill them and collect the reward, they stopped the scheme. The farmed cobras were set free, causing the population to explode.
The body count
The obsession, during the Vietnam war, with the “body count” metric embraced by US defence secretary Robert McNamara. The more of the enemy you kill, reasoned McNamara, the closer you are to winning. This was always a dubious idea, but the body count quickly became an informal metric for ranking units and handing out promotions, and was therefore often exaggerated. Counting bodies became a risky military objective in itself.
- Feb 2018, added the anecdotes section