Sunday, January 24, 2010

Don't aim at the target

Posted by Simon Baker

Without numerical measures we wouldn’t know what to do. The problem is, when numerical measures are used as targets they cause people to think their sole purpose is to achieve them, usually to the detriment of everything else. When managers own the targets and use them to force performance they bring out the wrong behaviors. People cut corners to meet the targets. And targets are everywhere. We blinker ourselves to everything except our targets and forget about the real needs of users. In pursuit of our targets we make local optimizations that are suboptimal for the throughput of the whole system, the wider organization.

Measures should reflect the true purpose of the people doing the work, which is to improve service and quality and satisfy users, and should therefore measure the improvements directly experienced by users. These people are in the best position to decide how to improve quality and performance and they should own the measures and use them to understand their work as a system. As part of a plan-do-check-act cycle, they should study the actual results of changes aimed at improvement, comparing them to expectations, analyzing the differences to determine cause, and then identify further opportunities to improve the system.

Managers shouldn’t use their measures as targets to control our performance. Instead, we should use our measures to continuously improve how we work so that our system performs better.

1 Comment

I couldn't agree more. But what do you do when the environment doesn't understand this?

Take a hypothetical situation: the end users are happy and quality is fantastic but the client and your company's executive team wants the programming done faster and for less money and feels they are paying too much for quality. They set a velocity target which brings out the wrong behaviors: the engineers respond by estimating more activities and counting in velocity some things they used to not include. They estimate more carefully. They game the system. They cut corners. The business gets the higher velocity and the quality reduction and the less expensive development, at least in the short-run.

What have you done with faced with that situation?

Comment by Andrew Fuqua