Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Number Lust

I am an amateur photographer while I am not not hacking project teams and building custom software at ThoughtWorks. Photographers are known to have bouts of lens lust* time and again, especially at the beginning. I realize that some managers seem to have similar urges when it comes to numbers, metrics. They suffer from acute number lust.

In ThoughtWorks, we believe in and encourage self organizing teams. BAs gather requirements, developers write code, QAs test and automate and the customer signs stories off in a flow. The Project Manager role is therefore reduced to making sure that nothing obstructs this flow.

The way this would be done is to gather and analyze the right data and take actions based on this analysis. Examples being:
  • Finding bottlenecks from the wall or a CFD and taking actions to fix the problems.
  • Looking critically at retrospective action items and seeing that all those issues are fixed (especially if they are issues outside the teams control, like infrastructure).
  • Making sure that the right capabilities exist in the team at the right time. If not, get people from outside, arrange training, etc.
Some PMs are content in gathering just enough data to spot problems. But then there are some who can't get enough data ever.

They want to organise the whole world into neat boxes and label them and track anything and everything possible. The walls soon fill up with useless charts with graphs and numbers that the team can't use in any way. The worst part is, there is no analysis done around the data even by the people who gather it. Having people in a 15 member team draw emotional seismographs every iteration and sticking them on the wall is of no use if you are not going to make any decisions based on them.

Now I agree that gathering all possible information can enlighten us to some extent. But its a matter of marginal utility. If I have to do 5 extra things to do my job, just because we want to gather data, I am not doing it.

So guys, here's a humble request. Figure out with your client what kind of data he would like to see. Figure out as a team what you would like to improve and what data needs to be gathered to help you get there. Don't burden your team with things that obstruct OR slow down the flow. Keep it simple and keep it lean.

Our job is to provide quality software not elaborate reports.

* lens lust - the dangerous urge to keep buying new, expensive lenses not realizing that its practice that will improve your photography, not lenses!!

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes some managers become paranoid and try to take refuge in metrics when clients ask questions related to quality or productivity. I had a painful time in a past project where a simple label change was estimated at about 5 hours of effort! And why so much time? Cuz there were a few excel sheets across different files that need to filled up, things that needed to be signed (yes on physical paper and then scanned to b stored as an electronic proof that something was adhered to!) .. so much for software development ... needless to say I got out of that project the earliest I could.

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