Dr. Deming

Dr. Deming

The Seven Deadly Sins of metrics programs are:

  1. Pride – Believing that a single number/metric is more important than any other factor.
  2. Envy – Instituting measures that facilitate the insatiable desire for another team’s people, tools or applications.
  3. Wrath – Using measures to create friction between groups or teams.
  4. Sloth – Unwillingness to act on or care about the measures you create.
  5. Greed – Allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system.
  6. Gluttony – Application of an excess of metrics.
  7. Lust – Pursuit of the number rather than the business goal.

In the end, these sins are a reflection of the organization’s culture. Bad metrics can generate bad behavior and reinforce an organizational culture issues. Adopting good measures is a step in the right direction however culture can’t be changed by good metrics alone. Shifting the focus on an organizations business goals, fostering transparency to reduce gaming and then using measures as tools rather than weapons can support changing the culture. Measurement can generate behavior that leads towards a healthier environment.  As leaders, measurement and process improvement professionals, we should push to shape their environment so that everyone can work effectively for the company.

The Shewhart PDCA Cycle (or Deming Wheel), set outs of model where measurement becomes a means to an end rather than an end in their own right. The Deming wheel popularized the Plan, Do Check, Act (PDCA) cycle which is focused on delivering business value. Using the PDCA cycle, organizational changes are first planned, executed, checked by measurement and then refined based on a positive feedback model. In his book The New Economics Deming wrote “Reward for good performance may be the same as reward to the weather man for a pleasant day.” Organizations that fall prey to the Seven Deadly Sins of metrics programs are apt to incent the wrong behavior.

(Thank you Dr. Deming).

Greed is taking all the food and not leaving some for everyone else.

Greed is taking all the food and not leaving some for everyone else.

Greed, in metrics programs, means allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system to gain more resources than one needs or deserves.  At that point measurement programs start down the path to abandonment. The literature shows that greed, like envy, is affected by a combination of personal and organizational attributes.   Whether the root of the problem is nature or nurture, organizational culture can make the incidence of greed worse and that is something we can do something about.

One of the critical cultural drivers that create a platform for greed is fear.  W. Edward Deming in his famous 14 Principles addressed fear: “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.” Fear is its own disease, however combined with an extremely competitive culture that stresses win/lose transactions, it creates an atmosphere that causes greed to become an economically rational behavior.  Accumulating and hoarding resources reduces your internal competitors’ ability to compete and reduces the possibility of losing because of lack of resources.  Fear-driven greed creates its own insidious cycle of ever increasing fear as the person infected with greed fears that their resource horde is at risk and requires defense (attributed to Sun Tzu in the Art of War). An example of the negative behaviors caused by fear that I recently heard about was a company that had announced that they cull the lower ten percent of the organization annually at the beginning of last year.  Their thought was that completion would help them identify the best and the brightest.  In a recent management meeting the person telling the story indicated that the CIO had expressed exasperation with projects that hadn’t shared resources and that there were cases in which personnel managers had actively redirected resources to less critical projects.

Creating an atmosphere that fosters greed can generate a whole host of bad behaviors including:

  1. Disloyalty
  2. Betrayal
  3. Hoarding
  4. Cliques/silos
  5. Manipulation of authority

Coupling goals, objectives and bonuses to measures in your metrics program can induce greed and have a dramatic effect on many of the other Seven Deadly Sins. For example, programs that have wrestled with implementing a common measure of project size and focused on measuring effectiveness and efficiency will be able to highlight how resources are used.  Organizations that then set goals that based on comparing team effectiveness and efficiency will create an environment in which hoarding resources generate a higher economic burden on the hoarder, because it reduces the efficiency of other teams.  That potential places a burden on a measurement program to create an environment where greed is less likely to occur.

Measurement programs can help create an atmosphere that defuses greed by providing transparency and accountability for results. Alternately as we have seen in earlier parts of this essay, poor measurement programs can and do foster a wide range of poor behaviors.

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In Christianity, the seven deadly sins are the root of all other sins. This concept has been used as an analogy for the ills or risks for many professions.  The analogy fits as well for software metrics; focusing attention on the behaviors that could sap your program’s integrity, effectiveness and lifespan. Here we will look at the deadly sins from the point of view of a person or group that is creating or managing a metrics program. As with many things in life, forewarned is forearmed, and knowledge is a step towards avoidance.

Here are the seven deadly sins of metrics programs:

  • Pride – Believing that a single number/metric is more important than any other factor.
  • Envy – Instituting measures that facilitate the insatiable desire for another team’s people, tools or applications.
  • Wrath – Using measures to create friction between groups or teams.
  • Sloth – Unwillingness to act on or care about the measures you create.
  • Greed – Allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system for gain.
  • Gluttony – Application of an excess of metrics.
  • Lust – Pursuit of the number rather than the business goal.

All of the deadly sins have an impact on the value a metrics program can deliver.  Whether anyone sin is more detrimental than another is often a reflection of where a metrics program is in it’s life cycle. For instance, pride, the belief that one number is more important than all other factors, is more detrimental than sloth or a lack of motivation as a program begins whereas sloth becomes more of an issue as a program matures.  These are two very different issues with two very different impacts, however neither should be sneezed at if you value the long-term health of a metrics program. Pride can lead to overestimating your capabilities and sloth can lead to not using those you have in the end self-knowledge is the greatest antidote.

Over the next few days we will visit the seven deadly sins of metrics!

The seventh deadly sin of measurement programs is greed.  Greed in this perspective means allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system to gain resources; this is generally a reflection of fear.  When metrics become a tool to manipulate the system based on an inordinate desire to acquire more resources than one needs or deserves we see greed.  At that point measurement programs start down the path to abandonment.

There is an active debate whether greed is a basic human instinct or whether it is a behavior generated by environmental / cultural conditions. I suggest that the nature or nurture discussion is a red herring when it comes to the health and well being of a measurement program. I believe the literature shows that greed like envy, at the very least is affected by a combination of personal and organizational failings and in most cases psychoanalysis is outside the mandate of most measurement programs.  Whether the root of the problem is nature or nurture, organizational culture can make the incidence of greed worse and that is something we can do something about.

One of the critical cultural drivers that create a platform for greed is fear.  W. Edward Deming in his famous 14 Principles addressed fear.  Principle Three is “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.[i]”  Fear is its own disease however combined with an extremely competitive culture that stresses win / lose transactions creates an atmosphere that causes greed to become an economically rational behavior.  Accumulating and hoarding resources reduces your internal competitors’ ability to compete and reduces the possibility of losing because of lack of resources.  Fear driven greed creates its own insidious cycle of ever increasing fear as the person infected with greed fears that their resource horde is at risk and requires defense (Sun Tzu).   An example of the negative behaviors caused by fear that I recently heard about was a company that had announced that they cull the lower ten percent of the organization annually at the beginning of last year.  Their thought was that completion would help them identify the best and the brightest.  In a recent management meeting the person telling the story indicated that the CIO had expressed exasperation with projects that hadn’t shared resources and that there were cases in which personnel managers had actively redirected resources to less critical projects.  Creating an atmosphere that fosters greed can generate a whole host of bad behaviors including:

  1. Disloyalty
  2. Betrayal
  3. Hoarding
  4. Cliques / silos
  5. Manipulation of authority

The measures and metrics in your metrics program can have a dramatic effect on many of the Seven Deadly Sins (or are a reflection of just how entrenched those sins have become).  Programs that have wrestled with a common measure of project size and focused on measuring effectiveness and efficiency will be able to highlight how resources are used.  Organizations that have set goals that are supported by effectiveness and efficiency will create an environment in which hoarding resources generates a higher economic burden on the hoarder because it reduces efficiency.  That burden will therefore create an environment where greed is less likely to occur.

Measurement programs can help create an atmosphere that defuses greed by providing transparency and accountability of results. Alternately as we have seen in earlier parts of this essay, poor measurement programs can and do foster a wide range of poor behaviors.

Summary

We began this journey through the Seven Deadly Sins of Measurement Programs nearly four years ago only to go on hiatus for nearly three years and then we began again 14 weeks ago.  The Seven Deadly Sins we have covered are:

  1. Pride – Believing that a single number / metric is more important than any other factor.
  2. Wrath – Using measures to create friction between groups or teams.
  3. Sloth – Unwillingness to act or care about the measures you create.
  4. Gluttony – Collecting data for data’s sake.
  5. Lust (Extravagance) – Pursuit of the number rather than the business goal.
  6. Envy – Instituting measures that facilitate the insatiable desire for another team’s people, tools or applications.
  7. Greed – Allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system to gain resources.

In many of the cases the behaviors that the Sins generated are a reflection of the organization’s culture.  A culture that can’t be changed by good metrics alone but in every case measures that focus on the business goals, foster transparency and are used as tools rather than weapons can provide a healthier environment.  As leaders, measurement and process improvement professionals should push to shape their environment so that everyone may work effectively for the company (Thank you Dr. Deming).


[i] Out of the Crisis by W. Edward Deming.  In my opinion, if you read one book on quality and process improvement, this MUST be it.