Why we don’t believe in One Metric That Matters

In tech, you hear the phrase “the one metric that matters” (OMTM) a lot. I certainly heard this at LinkedIn. Every year, we re-evaluated our “true north” metric to see if was still where we wanted to go.

The idea is that OMTM simplifies where you focus your team’s time and energy. Since it’s a metric, it’s quantifiable. If you choose it right, it should drive business results.

“Data-driven” is overrated

At LinkedIn, we had our own tracking systems and A/B testing platforms. We had a wicked sharp team of data engineers and data scientists. They could get any data set you wanted and then productionalize it for everyone else in the company.

It was great.

But at our two-person startup, we don’t have the same resources, so what are we to do? Should we hit pause on any feature development until we get the right metrics set up?

So I talked to a good friend who built amazing products at Google and is now on startup #2. I asked him how he picked the right metric for his company. At the time, he had about 40 employees and had just raised a Series B round.

He said “Yeah, we really need to think about picking metrics.”

“Huh?” I said, “What do you mean? How’ve you built your product if you’re not measuring?”

“Simple,” he said. “We sit with our users every day and watch them use our product. We’ll know when we get it right. Metrics are just a proxy to understand and measure the outcome.”

What if you can’t measure the exact metric you want?

It turns out you can generalize the One Metric That Matters to the One Outcome That Matters.

After all, a metric is simply a proxy.

So our team sat down and asked “What’s the one thing, where if we get it right, everything else will fall into place?” And once we have that, how do we start making progress in that direction? How will we validate qualitatively or through talking to users that we’re heading in the right direction?

Getting the metric tracking set up is an important part of executing on the one outcome that matters.

But it’s only a part — the metric itself is not what matters.

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