Always Measure Two Things

Be careful what you measure. You are going to get exactly that. You remember “Dieselgate,” where Volkswagen installed software in their cars to cheat on emissions tests. Samsung was just caught doing the same thing, programming their TVs to recognize a typical testing scenario and boosting brightness during the test.

A single measurement is easy to cheat on. If anything depends on that measure – bonuses, promotions, reputation – somebody is going to cheat sooner or later.

That’s why every measurement needs a counter-measure. Don’t just measure “Time to close support ticket.” I’ve been working with vendors who clearly had that measure as their main target, as have most people in IT. If you also measure customer satisfaction, it becomes much hard to game the metrics.

Online Makes Meetings Worse

When did you last walk out of a useless meeting? Never, right?

When did you last participate in a meeting where you got no benefit and contributed nothing? Last week, right?

We were slowly learning from trailblazers like Elon Musk to cut down on meetings. Then the pandemic and the associated video meetings teleported us back to the stone age of meetings. We have more meetings than ever, they start late and drag on, and involve too many people. Analyzing the video of online meetings shows that 50% of participants show up late, 40% have low engagement and 24% of participants don’t say a word during the entire meeting.

When something becomes easier, people do more of it. It takes a conscious effort to get back to focused meetings without clear agendas and only the absolutely necessary participants. Are you tracking how many meetings you have in your organization? If you aren’t, you can be sure you have too many.

(image: Kit-Kat ad mockup by Sam Hennig, creative strategist at Something Big)

Imprecise Language

Elon Musk understands the danger of imprecise language. He builds spacecraft, and that is an unforgiving business. NASA does not use precise language, causing them to crash the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter. SpaceX does use precise language.

Twitter uses imprecise language. You used to get banned for wishing violence on anyone. After the war started, they decided to make an exception for people who wish death on Russians. And then they had to clarify that you were still not allowed to wish death on good Russians, only bad Russians. And Twitter will be the arbiter of who is good and who is bad.

Elon Musk is so unhappy about Twitter’s imprecise language that he is willing to spend 45 billion dollars to buy the whole thing and fix it. His proposed fix: A short, clear list of banned conduct.

Whenever I am called in to do a post-mortem on a failed IT project, the root cause is always imprecise language. The specification calls for something vague like “easy to use.” But it does not provide the precise detail to evaluate if the system meets its goals. Systems must also be “fast,” “mobile-friendly,” and be “visually attractive.” Vagueness allows different people to get different messages from the same document. In diplomacy, agreements are sometimes worded so both sides can read it as a victory for them. That doesn’t work in IT systems. Are you using imprecise language in your communication?

Gaming the Metrics

Beneficial Intelligence is out. This week: Gaming the metrics. You need measures to manage, but when measures are used to praise or blame, employees will optimize for them. You need carefully paired metrics in order to avoid people gaming them.

Amazon tried and failed. They have an app to record driving behavior, but they also require a lot of packages delivered in a short time. Delivery companies are instructing their drivers to game the metrics by driving carefully at first, then switch off the app and drive like the devil.

As an IT leader, getting your measurements right is one of the most important part of managing your IT organization. If you are not carefully establishing paired metrics, you can be sure your metrics are being gamed.

Listen here or find “Beneficial Intelligence” wherever you get your podcasts.