Fear and Loathing in Measurementville


I used to get frustrated when implementing project management systems (or really any systems) that explicitly measure the performance of a project, team or individual in an organization.  Resistance was imminent.  But now that I realize that suspicion of, and disdain for, measurement systems is pretty innate in human nature and goes far beyond just whether someone got a task done on time, I am more intrigued than anything else.

Have you ever noticed that, even with all our amazing societal technology advances, no one has really troubled to make one-way mirrors any better?  Any time I walk into a retail outlet and walk past that sort of glassy, out-of-place mirror-esque window, my first thought is, who’s the paranoid on the other side “watching me…?”  And why??  What did I do?  And what are they afraid of??  Clearly, the very fact that I am being [clandestinely] observed bothers me.  There’s even a term in quantum physics for this phenomenon – it’s called the Observer Effect.  The very fact that something (or someone) is being observed can change its behavior or properties.  Pretty amazing.

And so it should not surprise us that an equal amount of suspicion and disdain accompanies a typical project management system deployment (or again, potentially any Business Intelligence or Dashboard that measures your workers), especially if there had been no formal system to date.  And depending on your organization’s culture, this is likely to lead to one of two behaviors that you need to plan for:

1.  Passive resistance – this typically involves either ignoring the data entry needs of the system until it, hopefully, starves to death or blindly updating the information with only positive input (everything is on schedule, on budget, etc.)

2. Justification – this involves a relatively fervent effort to enter everything being worked on in an effort to “justify” the worker’s own existence, the project budget, how busy everyone is, etc.

If you suspect that one of the above behaviors is likely to manifest itself as you roll out your new PMO or other formal management tool, here are some things you can do to reduce or maybe even eliminate the resistance or justification effects.

Tell everyone what you plan to measure, who will be doing the measuring, and why. I don’t know about you, but when I walk into a store and there’s a sign that says, “Due to a recent uptick in shoplifting, we have installed security cameras to keep our prices low and protect our store” at least I don’t feel like I am being unfairly singled out

Get everyone to participate in the development of the metrics. First of all, you’ll end up with better metrics. Second, you may gain some insights into what your workers think is important. And don’t be surprised if it’s different from how you think your business and workers should be measured!

Get consensus around the measures’ objectivity. One reason why professional athletes don’t mind talking about their “stats” is because they believe they are well thought out, fair, and objective. A baseball pitcher’s Earned Run Average (ERA) or a football running back’s Yards Per Carry are both pretty sound indicators of how they are performing over time. And you know what, they know that too.

Celebrate positive results at least as often as you ding someone for a disappointing result. One of the reasons measurement systems get a bad rap is because there is a perception (which is often quite real) that only negative performance will be highlighted and get focus. That’s why I have never been a fan of MBE (Management by Exception); i.e., I will ignore you and your efforts until you screw up…

And as Jerry said to George after George poured his heart out to him about all his deepest fears and anxieties, “Good luck with all that…”

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Measurement

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