Many of you have probably recognized that I am a fan of the television show The West Wing. Some of you will know the name and may have even watched the show, others will have no idea what I am talking about—partly, I suspect, because it has been more than twenty years since the show’s debut and approaching twenty years since its finale.

Even though time has passed, the show and its content can still be quite relevant. Take for instance an episode in which the president has been approached by his economic advisors with some troubling economic indicators. A discussion ensues amongst his advisors placing all of the analysis and opinion on diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum as to how, and if, the president can respond.

His immediate response is to say, “Everybody's got a magic lever they want you to push. I studied economics all my life but in this job only a fool is ever certain. You don't push any one lever; you wanna push a little on them all.”

“You wanna push a little on them all.”

One of his senior-most officials has an epiphany, saying “From every theory in moderation,” harkening back to an earlier conversation with his assistant about diets. You might be able to see the relevance when you consider the news and discussion about our current economy and inflation, how to fight it and how hard. Whether you are on the side of moderation, balance, or simply covering all the bases, or that we can put our eggs in the most effective basket, pick a target and carpet bomb it, there is yet another cautionary tale to consider—the movie, Pi (π). Again, a fictional tale—and quite a strange one—but the movie follows a mathematician convinced the number, π, is the key to everything, from cornering the stock market to understanding the entire universe and predicting what will happen in it. As you might be able to imagine, his obsession drives him insane and ends with a homemade lobotomy. Like I said, a strange one.

However, there are real-life instances of looking for the silver bullet, the answer to everything. Physicists have been searching for decades for the Grand Unified Theory, or Theory of Everything—“a hypothetical, singular, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe”—which began with Albert Einstein’s attempts to “unify his general theory of relativity with electromagnetism.”

In and around the coming of the new millennium, the financial sector started relying on “quants,” mathematicians combining analysis and algorithms to define, or quantify, the activities of the stock markets, looking for the key to predicting and “beating” the markets.

Particularly in the economy and the financial markets, at the root of the question—beyond the approach of either moderation or singularity—are the “indicators,” and using them efficiently and correctly. Same is true in quality. As authors Yves Van Nolan and Grace Duffy write, “Some doubt the value of KPIs (key performance indicators) as a tool for business or organization process management. The use of KPIs helps management make correct decisions. However, the way KPIs are used by most organizations is far from perfect.”

Get help evaluating and improving KPI management in “(PM)2 –method” and everything else we have to offer in this month’s Quality.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!