What are the differences between measure, metric and indicator?

Measures, metrics and indicators are widely present on companies every-day, but it’s concepts and differences aren’t always comprehended and applied correctly.

This article presents the definitions of measure, metric and indicator in a simplified way and propose an analogy to ease the concept understanding.





it's the association of a numerical quantity to a characteristic or the frequency in which an event occurs

- Which is the height of the customers that enter the shop?

- How many customers enter the shop?


it's the set of measurements taken through a period of time, using the same measuring methodology

- Through a period of time, day-by-day, which is the height and how many customers have entered the shop


represents a variation, usually percentual, of a measurement or metric compared to a known reference

- knowing the monthly average of customers that enter the shop, saying if whether, in a giving given month, the number of customers that have indeed entered the shop was bigger or smaller than the known average


In order to understand and fix these concepts more easily, use your imagination and create the image of an alien patient who has just arrived in a acknowledged hospital.

As it would be, the arrival of the alien to the hospital caused fear and astonishment to all the staff, but specially to the medical team on duty (?). Although that creature represents imminent danger to all, because it is a living being, the medical team decides to help that strange creature.

One of the first procedures carried by a nurse was to measure the body temperature of the alien using a regular thermometer. As he read the thermometer, the nurse shouted “My God, he is 55ºC”. The doctors quickly exchanged glances, until one of them asked: “Does anyone know which is the ideal temperature for an alien?”. All remained silent.

Chart 1: Patient’s temperature measurement (55ºC) when arriving in at the hospital (t=0min)

Next, some exams were carried in attempt to diagnose the alien, but as we all know, a few hours are required until the results are ready. During the endless hours waiting for the results, a nurse decided to take the patient’s temperature every 30 minutes, generating a metric.

Chart 2: Patient’s temperature metric, measured every 30 minutes by the nurse

Later, a doctor analysed a the temperature metric, but ended up even more confused in finding the alien’s temperature varied significantly each 30 minutes.


Without other resources and as a last shot, one of the doctors decides to use Google to try to find out something about alien temperature. Luckly, he found a study that says the ideal temperature for an alien is 40ºC and variations ranging from 35ºC to 55ºC are due to highly stressful situations.

Chart 3: References for minimum (35ºC) and maximum (55ºC) temperatures for an alien, compared to the metric obtained by the nurse.

From the moment it was possible to compare the measurements which compose the temperature metric (55, 36, 44, 53, 47, 36, 40 e 49)ºC with the references found in the study (35 a 55ºC), they obtained an indicator. Based on this indicator, the medical team was able to act accordingly and in a few days the alien recovered to its fullest.


The conclusion and learning coming from this analogy is that the collected measurements and metrics reflected the severity of the situation in numbers. However, simply the acknowledgement of those numbers was not enough to diagnose the alien, once there was no sort of reference which allowed data interpretation. From the moment the references were found on, the doctors could determine the source of the problem, diagnose the patient and prescribe the adequate treatment.

It should be really stressful to find yourself lightyears from home and not speaking English... right?



Posted on 04/07/2013

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