Unless We Measure (Issue 641)

In which we are reminded that precision in assessing client situations often leads to better, more predictable results.

Cooking at our house is an inexact science. We collect recipes and, when it comes to actually preparing and cooking, our relationship to recipes is “more like guidelines rather than rules.” At least that would be true of my wife, daughter, and son.

I, on the other hand, like to be a bit more exact. Thus, when dispatched to the downstairs refrigerator to retrieve a cup of  sour cream, I was stumped for a moment. I got off to a good start;  I found a container sour cream – container size four servings, serving size half cup.  The container had been opened on some previous occasion. I opened it and eyeballed the contents. No obvious signs of wear.  I estimated there were about 2/3 of a cup of sour cream. Not enough for the recipe.

I hollered, authoritatively, “We have two-thirds cup, not enough.” Kitchen voices reminded me, “guidelines, not rules,” and I was recalled, sour cream in hand, to learn that, “It’ll be OK, we’ll substitute something else.”

Now, I’m not enough of a food scientist to know whether the flavor or consistency one’s apple pie or whatever we were making that day is noticeably affected by a missing one-third or one-quarter cup of sour cream or the omission or substitution of one or several ingredients.

However,  I’m inclined to think there is a difference and, through long experience, I’ve learned that “sure, that’ll be OK” measurements can get us into trouble or, at least, produce  far different outcomes than we were expecting as we were reading the recipes.  We can’t really be sure unless we measure.

So, when potential clients say, “We need X” or “We want to do X,” we ask, “What leads you to that conclusion?” We listen as they share observations.  We explore further, “How often does that happen? Describe a few incidents. When has that happened?” and so on.

But, frequently, I have the sense that the clients are not REALLY sure about how many of what by when and according to whom.  They’re (basically) eyeballing the sour cream.

In creating solutions for clients, as in cooking, there’s an acceptable range within which one can vary ingredients without risking outcomes – the resulting apple pies will still look like and taste like apple pies. Acceptable ranges may be wider or narrower, based on sensitivities of an intended dish or client project and clients’ tolerances for variations from “recipes” for which they signed up.

That said, clients’ opinions about their circumstances can be as unreliable as our eyeballing the sour cream.

We can’t be sure unless we measure.

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