# What Are Measures?

Measures are a mathematical concept that allows us to evaluate data. They are used in order to prioritize tasks, add structure to relative chaos, and help reduce the likelihood of errors.

To measure means to determine the dimensions, quantity, or capacity of something. It also means to size up someone: to take his measure.

## Units of measurement

There are a number of different units of measurement. But the ones that are most commonly used to express physical quantities include the metre (symbol m) for length, kilogram for mass, litre for volume and second for time. These are called base units of measurement and they serve as the basis for other derived units.

It is important to understand that a unit of measurement is a definite quantity defined and adopted by convention or law to be the standard for measuring other quantities of the same kind. When you encounter a number expressed in a different unit of measure, it is helpful to convert that measurement into one of the base units of measurement — and this process can be simplified if you use a conversion table.

The modern system of metric measurements (also known as the SI, short for Le Système International d’Unités) has seven base units from which all other derived measurements are formed. This is a simple system because each base unit is based on multiples of 10 and this makes conversions easy.

## Measures and metrics

Many businesses are confused about the difference between KPIs, metrics and measures. While it is true that all of these are important, they are different things that perform different functions. Measures provide the raw data, while metrics and KPIs are the analytical tools that help interpret that data and make decisions based on it.

Unlike simple objective numbers, like current cash flow on a balance sheet, metrics are examined over time and often have goals or benchmarks. KPIs track strategic objectives and provide a clear focus. Metrics support these objectives by providing context and identifying what needs to be improved.

For example, knowing that you have twenty conversions is great but not as helpful as knowing that you had twenty conversions from a thousand impressions. Metrics help contextualize the information and give you a better understanding of what is truly important. In this way, they are the “story” that tells you whether your efforts are working or not.

## Measuring performance

As the quantity and complexity of information continues to grow, a clear understanding of what performance measures are used for and how they will be interpreted is more important than ever. It is important that measurement systems are well designed so that they are aligned to business strategy, and that they are effective at monitoring, communicating, and driving performance.

Performance metrics are used to monitor the progress of a project, program, or work and may be input-based, output-based, quality-based, financial, or organizational. They provide data-driven insights to facilitate planning, decision making, resource allocation and learning.

The best performance measurement systems are continuously tracked by internal staff and include a combination of program, financial and organizational data. They are designed to drive results by highlighting successes, motivating staff and providing a sense of achievement. They also include inside-the-black-box relationships connecting changes in operations to changes in outputs and outcomes. This is particularly critical when measuring social impact and ensuring that any intended consequences are not being undermined.

## Choosing the right measures

When developing a data model, it’s important to choose measures with a specific focus. A measure is a general term for any fact that can be computed or aggregated to produce a value. Examples include sales, quantities, accounts and other numerical facts.

There are many different types of measures, and different organizations use a variety of schemes to categorize them. Some categories are determined by legislation, others by CMS consensus and others by other methods.

The most critical factor in choosing the right measures is that they should be able to communicate the program’s performance to a large audience. The best way to think about this is to ask yourself, “If I had to stand up in public and explain this program to my neighbors, what would be the two or three headline measures?” This will help ensure that the right information is gathered. It’s also a good way to make sure that business leaders and data scientists are on the same page with respect to what is being measured and why.

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