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Vishwadeep Khatri

Apples to Oranges Comparison

Apples to Oranges


Apples to Oranges is an idiom commonly used to highlight the obvious differences between items that cannot be compared with each other. In common usage, it refers to a situation where someone is trying to deduce similarities between two dissimilar objects, items, metrics, processes, situations etc. by comparing one with the other. 


Applause for all the respondents- R Rajesh, Manjeet Sachdeva, Vijaya Mohan K. 



Q. 114   Apples to Oranges comparison - We cannot stick to “apples to apples comparison” just because that seems logical and easier. We sometimes need to make “Apples to Oranges comparisons”. 


Provide some examples where comparison of dissimilar entities becomes necessary. Also, explain a good technique that helps us carry out such a comparison. 


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From what i have seen or observed , general human tendency is to do Correlation and Comparison of things. People correlate one thing to another thing and compare things(objects, persons (read attributes/characteristics)...).


Why they do this ?

Because the human beings are trained and taught to do so since time immemorial. Man is a social animal with plenty of knowledge!! Human tendency is to go from a 'known' entity to an 'unknown' entity, in many cases. So the comparison starts from there.


What are we trying to say by "Apple to Orange" comparison.

It does mean that we are trying to compare two different things(in reality it could be about some objects or about some human beings). In the case of human beings, the comparison could be about their characteristics , in a personal context; skill set, experience-level, soft- skills, etc... in a professional context.


So why is this important ?

Because as a human brain is naturally aligned to compare people , it does not see what/whom needs to be compared with what/whom. This is the generic behaviour which needs to be consciously be changed by every individual to stay balanced. Apple to Orange comparisons , therefore would happen in reality in several cases, though the comparison often would be unfair.

Let us see some examples where 'Apple to Orange' Comparison becomes necessary  

1. In an IT organisation, an experienced employee(10+ year exp.), resigned from his job. As his job was a billable position, the service providing company found a lesser experienced(1 year) professional to replace the experienced professional. The customer knew the experience of the replaced staff. But a week later, the customer is not happy with the performance of the new staff stating the team that new staff needs to be upto speed and expects the quality as he got from the experienced person. Here clear 'Apple to Orange' Comparison has happened. Both the experienced employee(resigned) and the new employee have knowledge in that technology(Advanced Java) but the knowledge gap is wide. But for the customer, this is immaterial. He needed the same quality as it was earlier. The onus will be on the service provide to bridge the gap but the point is this comparison is made because the customer is expecting the same quality.


2.In an appraisal process in an IT company, all the team members(TM) were appraised. TM1, TM2, TM3 were all experienced in that order - with 10,7,5 years of experience respectively. TM4,TM5,TM6,TM7- were experienced with 4,2,1,1 years respectively. TM5,TM6, TM7 felt that it was unfair to compare them with senior TMs (TM1, TM2). They felt that they were feeling the pressure. Even though the project mgmt team had done some criteria for each experience, still the lesser experienced TMs felt that appraising them with the seniors would not help their appraisal. This is often the case we would come across many teams in many industries.


3. While doing software estimation:
    a). Say you have a start up company and you have got few development projects. Suddenly you get an enhancement cum maintenance project. Since you do not have an estimation template for an Enhancement , you rely on your estimation template for Development . You compare that (only to see if you get any initial idea) and try to tailor to suit your enhancement project requirements. In reality this could  be a failure.

b). Say you have an estimation model for Java/J2EE technology . Now you are getting a mainframe project and you do not have an estimation model for it. Now you   decide to take a leaf out of your Java/j2EE estimation model and take that as basis for your mainframe estimation.


In both the cases, we are making an Apple to Orange comparison ,as we are left with no choice but go from 'known to unknown' entity (to begin with).


4. How many times we would have seen the fact that to find the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) in a sport, we compare people who played the sport in different eras? Imagine how that sport would have been played in each era. Then how will you find GOAT ? Of course. various factors might be considered by the agencies (companies/relevant parties) which decide on the GOAT. Sometimes multiple Agencies who pronounce the result on GOAT, choose different players as the GOAT (they do not concur), because they may choose different factors.  So to find the GOAT , we are making an Apple to Orange comparison and we try to minimise this indifferent comparison by bringing in various factors. Otherwise how can you say , who is the greatest cricketing batsman of all time, greatest tennis player of all time, greatest golfer of all time ?  How difficult or easy to compare a tennis player who played lawn tennis in a wooden racquet, with a tennis player who played his tennis in synthetic hard court with a graphite racquet?   


Is there any technique to carry out such a comparison?
Honestly am not sure if there is any technique. I could think of few things however which can give some quick guidance , in my opinion.

1. Organisational Process Assets (OPA) - Previous projects could have done like this and could have updated the organisation's repository - Documents could be like logs, Excel sheets, Lessons Learnt etc.,. Those artifacts can have data on the comparable entities and the associated data that was required for each of the comparable entity and the decisions made on the comparison.

2. SharePoint, Online database - Where Information or factors deciding the comparison can be captured; data about comparable entities


Comparing things is a human mindset and has become a prerogative. Nothing can stop a person from comparing things . In a business context, this comparison takes importance because of cut-throat competition across the globe in every industry.Therefore , Apple-to-Orange Comparison , even though it may seem not correct, it is becoming increasing essential part of our day-to-day life.  



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Comparison is in fact between the man skills and the desired skill set required for a task or responsibility.

Here an apple and orange can both qualify 

A professional gathers a set of skills by virtue of knowledge experience training and grooming environment. There can be no similar oranges or apples. 

All this boil down to comparing the skill set verses the qualifying criteria for a task and thus leading to comparison of an apple and an orange.


The key lies in well defined skill set requirement for a task or job and then evaluating the available resources against these skill sets.



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Apple to orange comparison  leads to best benchmarking in different industries. 

For example Maintaining hygiene in food manufacturing industry is the key priority requirement at shop floor ,  they can compare With the best in other industry like 7 star hotels and Airports and implement the best practices at GMP area. 




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This may have seem liked a textbook question to answer and there lay the complexity in answering the question. Thank you all for attempting to answer; R Rajesh has given some common business situations. 


We come across many such business situations - the one that we are all aware of is "pre" and "post" improvement comparison in a DMAIC project. Very clearly it is an apples to oranges comparison, as the process itself has gone through changes. This comparison is made possible by using indices such as Cp, Cpk, Pp, Ppk or Sigma Level. 


There are times when Balanced Scorecards across different divisions are compared - the metrics of the divisions may be completely different, hence an apples to oranges comparison. %age attainment to goal is another way this comparison can be made possible.


One may also reason that accuracy rates, defect rates, coefficient of variation can also help make apples to oranges comparison.


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