Friday, September 30, 2005

Be Careful What You Measure

Management loves to measure things. It's what they do. You can't manage it if you can't measure it, baby. And what better way to incentivize your employees than to tie some sort of reward to the metrics you have? Unfortunately, you usually wind up with a lot of metrics that are completely orthogonal to your real behavior and performance goals. For example, tracking whether or not an employee submitted their time sheet in a timely manner, while valuable, is not your core business. Therefore, any reward or penalty should be extremely small. In the grand scheme of things, there are much more important things to worry about.

Conversely, you need to be careful about how you measure the things that are important to you. As soon as you measure it and tie it to a reward system, you've created a set of rules that can be manipulated and abused, often to the detriment of your real goals.

On my current team, we've started tracking how many story cards we complete each iteration. Somewhere we've lost a little bit of the link between feature and story card, but that's ok. The real shame of it all is that the acceptance of a story card is handled not by a strong product manager that really understands the product and the features his customers want to see in it, but by a quality control group. This group doesn't even know how to test that a story card is complete except by asking the developer that implemented it. Since the completion of stories and tasks directly reflect how well you and your team are doing, you are "encouraged" by the system to deliver lower quality work in a timely manner and then perform a little misdirection when you're explaining how to test a feature to the QC group. Sure, we delivered shitty quality, but man, look at all those check marks next to our story cards. We rock.


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