Homegrown Agile: The College Transfer and Focusing on the Wrong Metrics Wrongly

Word of warning: this blog post is half “Homegrown Agile” post about experiences that highlighted agility in my family and half a complaint session about yet another broken system.

Introducing M

I haven’t introduced my oldest daughter that we shall affectionately call “M.”  For some reason this brings back memories of Madame Judy Dench in her role in one of my favorite sets of films – James Bond, but I digress!  She was an exemplary high school student (who was involved in performing arts, multiple clubs and community organizations, and graduated with honors), and was accepted into multiple colleges, and was offered several scholarships (including to her school of ultimate choice).  Finally, she decided on her college – a great little private university in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachian mountains – and set out to make that college her home for the next 4 years.  However, things happen.  Sometimes, as we know, “you don’t know what you want until you see what you don’t want.”  Alas, this was the case with M’s college career.

Enter the Broken System

As M decided to apply to a more local public university, she ran into a problem – her grade point average (top 10%), her extracurricular activities, her involvement, all went out the window because her math score on the SAT wasn’t considered high enough.  Without bashing the local college, they are not known as the finest engineering school in the southeast, nor are they widely considered a mathematics mecca.  Rather they are known more for their liberal arts, teaching, and nursing – none of the areas that generally require high mathematics scores.  But, because one metric pointed to a certain “assessment” of M, she was immediately shot down.  The whole idea that the student is not looked at holistically, based on her desires and skills, but rather on whether or not certain antiquated metrics are met.

Measuring the Wrong things Wrongly

In speaking with clients and perspective clients, I run into the similar challenge where they have gotten so used to making decisions based on either irrelevant and non-modern metrics, or they don’t know how to make “agility” meet their metrics, or they simply are not measuring the right thing.  Most clients that start to make organizational change tend to lean on metrics such as:

  1. Number of people trained in a new method or process
  2. Percentage of individuals who self-identify (or worse, whose boss emphatically state) that they follow said method or process, and,
  3. Random ROI on this process change (reduction in force or reduction in process)

While this might seem like a valid set of measures, the real question keeps going back to “what kind of value are we providing internally and externally.”  Have we forgotten that we should measure the things we do and then the causality of the changes that occur?

Organizations that are more traditional with heavyweight measurements and dashboards and red-yellow-green style imaging generally miss “why” we measure.  They use measurement as a way to determine what is wrong and then never make substantive changes to fix the root cause of the metric.  For example, one organization I worked with was red on a release delivery until the project manager got permission to push out the release date by 2 weeks.  All of a sudden, the project was green!  Magically!  Wow!  No one used the metrics as a conversation starter, but just as another hoop to shoot.

Other companies treat metrics just as the local college – as a measure of the person or team or organization without measuring the whole person or team or organization.  They measure “escape defects” of the teams and then make changes because of “poor quality.”  They measure “amount of work done in a timebox” and then put an employee on an improvement plan or force rank them because they aren’t efficient enough.  In this case, this is just a wrong view of metrics!

What to do about it

First, identify what metrics help support improvement and encourage the values of the company!  One story I remember is that of a collections company who measured how many thank you notes were sent from their employees to “paid in full” accounts.  Another company I know of measured the percentage of work done where the primary competency did something other than that task (e.g., developer wrote test-first cases, BA did some coding, quality folks helped with identifying what was needed) all in a strategic goal to create cross-functional teams over time.  Another organization measures what innovative content (media company) comes from activities outside of normal product/project work! All of these measures are meant to start conversations, not end them!

So, what does this all mean.  It means that we need to focus on the measures that:

  • Help us understand what challenges are in the way of substantive improvement
  • Help us understand our clients needs, wants, and how we match up to that, and
  • Help us build relationships both internally and externally.

This will help us create cultures that not only benefit the customers and increase revenues through meeting a market need, but also increase our ability to deliver because we have nurtured and supported high performing people/teams!

Go forth and make people awesome!

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