Posted tagged ‘business intelligence’

The Invention of Lying

October 9, 2009

I went to see The Invention of Lying last weekend.  Clever little movie from Ricky Gervais who “discovers” that he is the only person, in a world otherwise just like ours, who is capable of not telling the truth.  As you can imagine, he proceeds down a slippery slope from some “whitish” lies to get some extra money and a few dates to some whoppers.

That got me thinking about a lot of things but two specifically come to mind.  The first is that it seems telling that our linguists have created so MANY words for that slippery slope.  Mistruth, misconstrue, exaggerate, embellish, fabricate, fiction…  I could go on.   And that’s without consulting a thesaurus!  The second is, unlike in Ricky’s world, how our human nature seems to lend itself quite readily to “modify the facts” when the stakes are high.  And ironically, when the stakes are high, the truth is often at its most valuable.

I have recently come across several “management dashboards” that use the standard Green, Yellow, Red symbols to indicate the “health” of a project.  You know, whether it’s ahead or behind schedule, whether it’s over or under budget, whether the scope is wildly out of control, etc.  And it seems that, for many managers, their objective is for everything to be green.  And when it is – you get a cookie.

Now add all this up…  A slippery slope that makes it easy to justify altering facts, compensation tied to “good” performance (aka lots of green dots = lots of cookies). the well-founded statistic that most projects fall behind and/or end up over budget, and pressure to present the most favorable possible status from your superiors.  Is it any wonder that it’s hard to get the real status of a project??

When I was managing lots of project managers, I toyed with the idea of rewarding them for telling me things were bad.  I never quite figured out how to do it effectively, but I always suspected that rewarding people to tell me everything was green was “bad form.”

So do yourself a favor.  Create a measurement system that encourages and rewards accurate reporting, and makes it more difficult to justify why something is green than why it’s red.  You’ll get some pretty funny looks, but you might also get some truth…

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Fear and Loathing in Measurementville

December 4, 2008

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…”