Sunday, April 29, 2007

Measurement is hard

I was going to title this post "ISO 15939", but then many of you would not be reading this. However, this last week I was introduced to a measurement world I am still trying to figure out. It looks compelling, and it is related to this standard.

One of our challenges is convincing people that they should expend the effort to measure something. One of the books on this subject I like is entitled "Practical Software Metrics for Project Management and Process Improvement", by Robert B Grady. In the book he describes how you use the "Goal, Question, Metric" paradigm to choose what to measure. Using this method you first state what it is you are trying to accomplish, then what questions you would ask to see if you are accomplishing that goal, and then decide how you would measure the answers. Very simple, in fact, practical. The book is full of lots of examples too, and it's dense, and to the point.

Fast forward to this week. I had the pleasure of listening to Rick Hefner, PhD, Director of Process Management at Northrup Grumman, talk about measurement and CMMI. He referred me to, which I'm still trying to wade through. It seems based on similar principles. PSM is a web site for Practical Software Metrics. The book by a similar title was written in 1992, and this organization has been meeting on a large scale since 1996; yet I had never heard of it; hopefully that's just me and this is old news to you guys. The book was written based on experience at Hewlett Packard. The PSM web site and group was sponsored from DOD and the Army (this may be why I haven't heard of it). But ... bear with me, it looks flexible, not DOD-ish.

I'm sure a number of you will react that we just need to use agile practices, work hard, and hire good people and forget measurement. I'm sorry, but I won't ever agree. You can't improve strategically without measurement, because you don't know what to improve, or if you actually did improve. If your product and work life is perfect, your customers are always happy, you never miss deadlines, you have more revenue and earnings than you can count, and you have fantastic work/life balance.. then fine, maybe you don't need measurement. If you have that environment, call me - I'll work for you. Otherwise I think you should check this out, just to know what it is and see if there are tools here for you. And by the way, eXtreme Programming advocates metrics - you have to measure the number of stories built in an iteration. So please don't tell me I don't get it.

There are a number of extensive white papers on the site, dealing with subjects such as how to measure your process improvement efforts, and measurement of security properties of systems.

They have a piece of free software (PSM Insight) that will help you with measurement that conforms to iso15939. I haven't run it yet, but was viewing their online demo and it looks useful. One could argue it's simply a graphical tool for your data, but it seems to also get you to conform your data in a way that uses industry standard metrics and indicators, so that others can understand you better. I would be interested in any comments from people who've used this tool.

Bottom line: check out

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Praise is getting harder

The Wall Street Journal yesterday did an article on younger workers' need for praise. (You'll need an online subscription to read the article).

The article claims that popular self-esteem-building parenting and coaching techniques have created a generation for whom a lack of continuous feedback feels like rebuke. The abundance of praise may have led to the formation of a cadre of narcissists. Moreover, in the race to provide such praise, praise words get inflated - "nice" and "smart" are no longer complements. What you think may be praise might not have the desired effect.

The article mentions communication that many of us are probably more familiar with - if nobody is yelling at you, that's a proxy for communication of satisfaction with your performance. That strategy will fail with many 20-somethings and you will be burdened with filling a vacancy. On the other hand, inflated praise may seem disingenuous, even to the receiver. Bottom line, praise is getting harder.

The article talks about how to give feedback in such cases; a lot of younger people may completely ignore candid feedback, because they are used to being told they can do anything if they believe they can. Steve Smolinsky advocated using language like "It's not as good as you can do", a compromise with some lack of directness.

All of this language is counter to a lot of how I have been coached and treated in my career. I'm certainly not advocating being mean, but if you are disappointed, the discussion has to happen; you may not understand all the factors, and very likely your employee doesn't. Clouding this discussion with praise may fail to get the point across. With practice, you can give someone feedback and show that you want them to be successful at the same time, without confusing it with ego-boosting messages. What this article says though, is that may not be enough. Perhaps you can use another technique they mention for relationships - give five times as much positive as negative feedback (but do it at different times).

Bottom line, this probably isn't new - you should already be thinking about how different people react to different forms of praise and feedback. What is new, to me at least, is thinking about it as a assumption based on age; it will require observation to see if the theory matches your reality.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Develop, Support or Punt?

As a leader, having identified an individual's lack of skill in a particular area, how do you decide whether to try to develop the skill, simply provide support from someone else in the weak area, or move the person out of the role or team? After all, it's the leader's job to remove roadblocks and provide support, right? When does support stop being a good thing and start being a problem?

I don't think this situation has a general answer. The only sound bite I have is that if the lack of skill could demotivate the team, then unless it can be remedied quickly, the person lacking needs to be removed. For example, if a person simply can't tolerate their design being reviewed, maybe they shouldn't be doing design; that in turn might have significant consequences for the individual, but the leader must consider the health of the team first. This is hard to do if the person has some other skill that is very helpful to the team; but it's not enough if it could take the team down.

Another class of skills are those that are required to perform the minimum requirement for the job. In such cases, supporting the person rather than developing the skill will be demotivating for the team. So for example, if the person cannot write clear documentation on their interfaces, but that is a requirement for the job, then allowing the person to be weak in this area by assigning it to someone else is not supporting them - it's enabling them to evade responsibility. The person may be a superstar in some limited ways, but if they can't do all the required steps in the job, they need to be fixed or removed.

After that it gets a little fuzzy. What if your superstar designer and implementer just can't negotiate? She gets nervous and clams up when she should be discussing who should do what... and she really hates negotiating. Should you overlook the shortcoming, try to fix it, or let her go? (Assume that this is not an essential part of her job, so letting her go isn't the right solution). She might quit if you push her too hard, but you know she could be so much more if she had this skill. I advocate you tell her that; your opinion on how much more capable she could be might be enough to overcome the fear. If she's really not interested in fixing it, it isn't likely that she will be successful in developing the skill. So first create the motivation for her to try; it is amazing what people can do when they want to. Failing that, assign her some support.

Monday, April 09, 2007


This twelve minute video talks about how some large companies have made environmental progress and money at the same time. Not only is this a fabulous trend for business and the planet, but it shows that if you look for win-win strategies, you might find them. Conversely, if your model of the world believes that something can't be done, your bias may inhibit or prevent it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I love this quote attributed to Jack Welch (and I've probably got it wrong, sorry Jack):

If we are going to make this decision based on opinion, I prefer mine.

I like it because it is straight up - facts and analysis are credible scientific truth-seeking mechanisms. Opinions are based on all kinds of human biases.

I attended a meeting recently regarding a paper to be published soon, about studies regarding expert's ability to predict future success of startups based on business data presented by entrepreneurs. The study group was able to use neural nets and Bayesian analysis to "code" the startup team's properties such that it predicted success better than VCs. It's not published yet, so I don't want to spoil their thunder, but it looks fascinating.

What this says is that your "gut" reaction is undoubtedly worse than careful analysis. It might be really good for those life-and-death split-second decisions using that small part of your brain wired for preservation. The allure of the intuitive decision is strong; but there is no evidence that it chooses the correct direction, and there is some compelling evidence to the contrary.

A May 2003 HBR article called "Don't trust your gut" reported that in 2002 45% of surveyed executives relied more on instinct than facts and figures. That's a staggering and scary number. It's so much easier to go by gut reaction, but the article makes the case that we are such effective pattern recognition engines that we see patterns where none exist. The pattern recognition skills built into your most basic brain functions are fast but not particularly good at sorting through risk. It's biased for survival; I read somewhere recently where a man had been next to a window which blew in during a windstorm, and now he gets nervous whenever he hears wind... totally illogical, but the pattern is burned in his brain.

My dog is a great pattern recognition engine. She notices subtle movements, sounds and behaviors and can interpret with surprising accuracy what will happen next. Yet I wouldn't ask her to choose my stocks for me.

Bottom line? Do the math.