In our Operations Management class, we discussed how Wilson tests the durability of its tennis balls. It does so by subjecting them to pressure and checking for signs of contortion in the shape of the ball.
It isn’t possible for Wilson to put each ball through hours of tennis hitting and then confirm it is ready for sale. So, it works with a proxy measurement. It is unclear if customers can tell the difference between a tournament standard ball and a non-tournament standard ball. Perhaps professional tennis players can.
There isn’t necessarily an issue with this proxy. It seems to have largely worked out OK for them. But, it is a proxy measurement nevertheless. And, it is foreseeable that there might come a day (if it isn’t already here) when the distance between the proxy and the needs of the customer grows and Wilson fails to adapt simply because it is optimizing for the wrong thing.
Proxy measurements such as the Wilson durability test are critical in Operations. Proxy measures are critical in our life’s operations, too. They’re our attempt at simplifying a complex world and making our lives easy to navigate.