Don’t trip the runner next to you just to win.
The results of software measurement can be held up as badge of honor. It is not uncommon for a CIO, department manager, project manager or even technical lead to hold up the performance on their projects in front others, engendering envy from other projects. Envy is a feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another. Measurement is a spotlight that can focus other’s envy if the situation is right. That can occur when bonuses are tied to measurement and when the assignment and staffing of projects is driven by unknown factors. There are two major types of metrics-based envy: one must be addressed at the personnel level and the second must be addressed organizationally.
Envy can be caused when the metrics of projects managed by others in your peer group (real or perceived) are held up as examples to be emulated. The active component of envy at this level is triggered by a social comparison that threatens a person’s self image, and can be exacerbated when the attributes that impact performance are outside of the team’s control. The type or complexity of the work coming to a team is generally negotiable. Teams that get the really tough problem will generally not have the highest productivity even though they may solved an intractable business problem. Envy generated by this type of problem translates into a variety of harmful behaviors. In benign cases, we might just pass it off as office politics (which everybody loves, not), or in a worst case scenario could generate a self destructive spiral of negative behavior which is not helpful to anyone. Typical envy-driven behaviors to watch for include the loss of will, poor communication, withdrawal and hiding. While the amateur psychologist in me would be happy to pontificate on the personal side of envy, I am self aware enough to know that I shouldn’t. If you have fallen into the trap of envy, get professional help. If you are a manager of a person that is falling into this hole, get them help or get them out of the organization.
The other category of triggers are organizational. These are the triggers that as managers, we have more control over and have the obligation to address. As leaders we have a chance to mold the organizational culture to be supportive of efficiency and effectiveness. Cultures and environments can facilitate and foster both good and bad behaviors. Cultures that support an atmosphere of individual competition above collaboration can create an atmosphere where envy will flourish. This will act as a feedback loop to further deepen silos and the possibility of envy. For example, Sid may feel that Joe always gets the best recruits and he is powerless to change the equation (for whatever reason), therefore he can’t compete. Envy may cause him to focus on stealing Joe’s recruits rather than coaching his own. Thisculture can disrupt communication and collaboration and create silos. In this type of environment positive behaviors, such as displaying measurement data, can act as feedback loop to deepen the competitive culture rather than generating collaboration and communication. Typical behaviors generated by envy triggered by organizational issues include those noted earlier and outright sabotage of projects and careers (tripping the runner next to you so you can win), and just as bad, the pursuit of individual goals at the expense of the overall business goals.
Measurement programs can take the lead in developing a culture where teams can perform, be recognized for that performance and then share the lessons that delivered that performance when it is truly special. An important way to understand what type of performance really should be held up and emulated is based on the work of W. Edward Deming. In Deming’s seminal work Out of the Crisis, he suggested that only variation caused by by special causes should be specifically reviewed rather than normal or common cause performance. Understanding and using the concepts of common and special cause of variation as tools in your analysis will help ground your message in a reality that focuses on where specific performance is different enough to be studied. Common cause variation is generated by outcomes that are within the capability of the system. Whereas special cause outcomes represent performance outside the normal capacity of the system. In every case, performance outside of the norm, should be studied and where positive, held up for others to emulate. By focusing your spotlight on these outcomes you have the opportunity to identify new cutting edge ideas and ideas that should be avoided. Another technique for fostering collaboration (an environment where envy is less likely to take root) is to invite all parties to participate in the analysis of measurement data using tools such as a WIKI. The measurement group should provide the first wave of analysis, then let the stakeholders participate in shaping the final analysis, using the crowd sourcing techniques made famous by Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia. Getting everyone involved creates a learning environment that uses measurement not only as tool to generate information, but also as a tool to shape the environment and channel the corporate culture.
Measurement and measurement programs don’t cause the sin of envy. People and organizational cultures foster this sin in equal measure. Done correctly, measurement programs can act as a tool to tame the excess that lead to this sin. However the corollary is also true. Done incorrectly or poorly, measurement ceases to be a positive tool and becomes part of the problem. Measurement that fosters transparency and collaboration will help an organization communicate, grow and improve.