Metrics make us miserable most of the time. Work is no different. Every job has its weird metric, the one dreamed up by the boss or a triumvirate of software architects. My favorite screwy metrics is 75 Percentile of Mean Time to Mitigate. How can something be an average (50th Percentile) and a 75 Percentile? This metric worked by throwing out longest and worst 25% of live site incidents. When you throw out the worse and keep the best the numbers look good. It was very far from reality.
When a manager is tasked to improve a metric sometimes they distort the system. Public companies often use Earnings Per Share (EPS) as a measure. EPS is calculated by dividing Profit by the number of outstanding share in the marketplace (EPS = Profit/Shares). Companies will buy up many shares, take them off the market and immediately improve their EPS. The same Profit will be spread across a fewer number of shares.
I heard a story of cash commissions at the Men's Warehouse. Make a sale and get $$ for each sale. The result, the best sales people stole customers from the worst sales people. This happened while customers where in the store! The sales team was fighting with each other, not fighting to beat the competition. Very sad.
These distortions are gaming the system. Many of us see this gaming from our bosses, on our teams at work, and from our competitors. It does not feel good, and we certainly do not take pride in those moments. So what should we do?
Four steps to aspiration metrics
*Create a new metric, one that you own
*Drive a conversation with the data, do not beat anyone up
*Fix small problems. Accomplishments build trust.
*Praise learning and celebrate outcomes. No other rewards are needed.
The key to all of this is learning. Measurements which are specific and repeatable engender experiments. These experiments power learning and growing. Fixing and praising build trust.
It is the culture of trust with an openness to new ideas that gets the most from metrics and measurement. If you are a smart leader you will focus on a culture of candor and a diversity of thinking as a critical part of success. If you are a team member you should hire people who are open to new ideas and will invest in the team's success.
Making software leaders better