Illogical Behavior ≈ Illogical Measurements

Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I behave.  If you measure me illogical way. . . do not complain about illogical behavior.

This past week I got to meet someone who I’d instantly consider a friend of mine.  She works as a continuous improvement engineer for a potato manufacturing company in China.  She was communicating her observations of the behavior of the workers in the plant and how it impacted production.  As I was listening (which I’m still not as good as I’d like to be) I remembered this quote from Eliyahu Goldratt’s book, The Haystack Syndrome.

The behavior she was describing was illogical and while there’s not a direct correlation between illogical behavior and measurements, Goldratt is generally correct that there is a correlation!  I asked her what her mepotatoes fun knife forkmeasurements were and she explained that each shift is currently measured on their output.  Output is defined as the amount of product produced during their shift.

Output and throughput are two different things.  Output is the amount of product regardless of quality.  Throughput is the amount of value of the product to the business as determined by the customer.  Customers tend to care about quality, and so while a shift may have high output if that output is of a lower quality than customer specifications it will not meet throughput requirements.  It is wasted effort.

It’s easy to see how this happens, the measurements are designed to encourage a particular type of behavior, but that behavior doesn’t translate to added value.

One way to expose this is to ask yourself if the work your doing is value added or if the work you’re doing is simply to satisfy a measurement?  If you’r work is value add, great!  Keep going.  If it’s to satisfy a measurement then please, question the assumptions of the measurement.

Notice I said, question the assumptions of the measurement, not the calculations.  Generally, people get the calculations right (with some exceptions), but it’s the assumptions that are really dangerous.  The leadership at my friend’s work had made the assumption that output and throughput were the same thing and that measurements based upon output would suffice to encourage the behavior they wanted.

That assumption appears wrong.  It should be tested and if found false, corrected.

Making and operating on assumptions doesn’t make you a bad leader or a bad person.  We all do it.  There’s just not enough time in our lives to fully research every decision (See Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions).  We have to use good-enough information when we make our choices.  Once a system is established it’s a good idea to review those choices to see which assumptions can be challenged to find greater opportunities to improvement.

Are you ready to challenge your assumptions?


No Offence

Months into the project the tracts I was working on managing were lagging behind.  My inexperience, cultural barriers, technical challenges, and resources all contributed to a series of delays.  No one on the team had any issue with the way I’d been handling things because I kept them in the loop and help set proper expectations.

There was a great deal of anxiety about the delayed deliverables since so much was depending on them.  A meeting was called for lunch in a company that treats lunch time as a sacred break to give their employees time to refresh and we started breaking out the details on my deliverables.  A lot was done, but without the complete set of work the dependent tasks could not be performed and tested.

A passionate meeting ensued.  The whiteboard basically looked like it had graffiti on it.  Tables were drawn.  Dates were discussed and debated.  People were using their outside voice inside to make sure they were heard.  At the end of it the Product Owner pulled the leadership team aside and recommended that the primary PM own my effort and serve as the single point of contact.

By the time I got to the cafeteria my boss, who had scheduled the meeting, asked me how I was feeling about it.

I told him that I wasn’t offended at all.  We’d reached the point where the delay on my workstreams were impacting the overall project and that the primary PM needed to be intimately aware of what was going on so he could find opportunities to move his dependent steps forward as it becomes possible to do so.  I’m still managing, but now I’m feeding that PM my information at every update instead of just our normal cadence during the week.

I’m not sure how things would have changed if pride were a part of the equation, but I don’t imagine it would have made things any easier.  I think it was better to spend the time to focus on the work at hand and not on placating someone’s hurt pride.

No offense?  None taken.

Together is Better

A few weeks back I was updating the Book List and snuck in there a little book with a lot of wonderful pictures.  Today I’d like to mention a bit about Simone Sinek’s Together is Better.

There are a few things that a reader will need to accept in order to enjoy this book.  Chief among them are the ideas that a book can be powerful, short, and include pictures.  Once the reader has adopted that premise, the book becomes easy to digest and enjoy.

Inside Sinek’s work are several colored pages of drawings each with brilliant insights that tell a story of a group of friends on a quest to make things better.  In his text he takes the time to articulate and define objects and concepts we often deal with in our complex world while the artwork helps to solidify the message in our heads (people are visual learners after all).

The book is short enough to read on a lunch break and perfect for leaders to leave in the break room to spark conversations.  If it still feels overwhelming after I described it as having pictures, I’d like to also add that my eight year old read it to me one afternoon in about 35 minutes.  It’s a quick read.

Oliver DeMille often talks about having unifying cultural artifacts among groups and how impactful those artifacts on that society that adopts them.  If your group is going to adopt an artifact for reference this one is likely a perfect fit.

The best way for me to endorse this book is to say that if you’re in an environment that has people then, this is probably a book you’ll want hanging around.