Thursday, 31 December 2009

Developing Performance Metrics

It’s possible to have successes without relying on metrics. With smart people making decisions, even with imperfect information you will probably get more right than wrong. And in relative terms, compared to your competitors, you may even exceed their results over time.

But you will never be great. To be great implies sustaining excellence over long periods of time and across changing circumstances. It requires planning and execution AND measuring yourselves against your goals to see how you have done. If you have missed the goals, metrics help you figure out why you missed them, so you can adjust. And if you achieve them, then you make new, loftier goals.

And you keep doing that until you are great. You may not even realize that you’ve achieved greatness, so focused are you on constant refinement & improvement. But your customers will, and your shareholders will, and especially your competitors will–because you’ll be the standard by which they are being judged, and falling short.

Arriving at metrics is a trial and error process. You may (and should) explore many avenues before you find the measures that you are looking for. That’s a good thing. All of that exploration, even those avenues that turn out to be dead ends, helps to inform you about the terrain that you are exploring.

There are no bad theories, or dumb ideas, only differing degrees of usefulness. And the job is to come up with the most useful metrics from the point of view of achieving your goals.
There are two broad categories of metrics, measuring organizational performance and individual performance.

For organizational performance, the questions you ask sound something like, “How do I know that my department is succeeding?” or “What are the things that define & describe success for my department?” or “What does my department’s success look like?”

You have to answer those questions first or you won’t have a chance of arriving at the most useful metrics, which are the ones that give you an immediate basis for assessing how your department and the company are doing, and tell you where you should be focusing your attention.

For individual performance, sometimes organizational metrics lead to individual metrics. For example if you define one of your department’s metrics as retention rate, then it makes sense to have individuals accountable for their own retention performance. But it doesn’t always line up that neatly.

When it doesn’t, there are similar questions as the organizational ones. “What is the reason the company created this job?” “What are the two or three most important duties in this job?” Or ultimately, “What are the most important ways a person doing this job should spend their time?”

The answers to both sets of questions should be a lot of help in identifying the measurements that will be helpful to you. Once you have that, then you can start to talk about ways of arriving at those measurements.

At the end of the day though, the most important thing to do is come up with ideas that you can sift through, test out, and choose from.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Is Usain Bolt Jamaica's Muhammad Ali?

Those who are talented enough and work hard enough to represent Jamaica in athletic endeavours (football aside) on the world stage are expected to observe a certain decorum.

Gracious in victory, stoic and sporting in defeat, recent paragons of this code have been Courtney Walsh (who in 1987 cost West Indies a place in the world cup semi-final by refusing to mankad Saleem Jaffar); Asafa Powell (unsmiling, all business before he races, calm and philosophical after losing); and Veronica Campbell-Brown, on the podium in Athens with tears flowing despite her best efforts at control.

Not for us the aggressive swagger of Justin Gatlin, the
out-thrust tongue of Maurice Greene, or the space age glasses of Ato Boldon (remember these?)

Enter Usain Bolt, mugging for the cameras, apparently oblivious to the seriousness of the occasion, irreverent enough to celebrate victory before the finish line, slapping his own chest in a gesture more readily associated with the braggadocio (or what we call 'mouting') of the domino table, and cap it off with the celebratory gully creeper. It's an almost unseemly display of self-confidence. As the man himself described it, "I try to enjoy myself at all times. That's how I stay relaxed. That's who I am and I won't change."

Now maybe I'm imagining things, but did I see Powell slapping hands with Daniel Bailey before the 100m final at the World Championships? And Brigette Foster-Hylton making faces for the camera before her 110m hurdles final? And Melaine Walker piggy-backing on the frigging mascot after winning the 400m hurdles?

It doesn't seem a stretch to see a link between all this self-expression and the ascendancy of Usain Bolt. Now it may be that this is a sign of generational change. That the freedom displayed by the Walkers and Frasers would have come with or without Bolt. Except for the previously unimaginable sight of Powell miming his mouth being taped shut in a light-hearted jab at sports commentator Oral Tracy.

In a milder version of the way that Muhammad Ali was the anti-Jackie Robinson; making it ok for black americans to be themselves, to not worry so much about being a "credit to their race", maybe Usain has shown us that we can be brash, or whimsical, or whoever the hell we really are.

That could be worth even more than a world record or four.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Poker story - we're all from different planets

I had a phenomenal night last night in my home game. Best night of a sub-par year so far for me, finishing up by 10 buy-ins.

Towards the end of the night, I played an Omaha hand with Q-Q-x-x. The flop was 6-6-4 with 2 hearts, and got checked around. The turn was a magical Qh. I was in early position, and decided to try to represent a non-nut flush, so I bet $500 into the $900 pot. Fold around to the button who raises by $1500. Glory. Generally this villain does not easily find laydowns, so I reckon I don't need to slow play. I raise by $2k, trying to say I still like my hand, and I'm not believing you.

He shoves for around $4k more. So I have to stop and think now, because 6-6, right? But I can't fold here to this villain so I call and flip my cards while saying "You'll need quads to beat me". He flips over Ah-9h-x-x and is drawing dead. But the most interesting part is when another player (let's call him Jeff) reacts to my quads statement, saying, "Oh please, quads?!" almost implying I'd slow-rolled.

So I say "Villain had earlier overbet-shoved over the top of me with the near nuts and got me to call, and I had to at least think about it." And Jeff says "It's not a night for quads - we haven't seen any all night". I think he's joking and play along saying "Well it's not like the cards know what night it is." And he's like, "What, you don't believe things happen like that?" and getting support from another player "Yeah, we haven't seen quads in ages". So I shut the fuck up because....Say Whaaaat?!?!

So yeah, I'm from Mars, I guess.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Why Managers Exist

One of the reasons that corporations exist is to benefit from specialization.

An unintended side effect of specialization is that individuals become dissociated from the outcomes of their efforts.

The Manager's role is to design, implement, and maintain systems that re-associate individuals with their outcomes.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

System design & GSAT

There are too many lawyers & sociologists in public policy, & not enough engineers. I don't mean just civil/electronic/mechanical engineers. I'm also talking about software engineers, reliability engineers, the entirety of activity that engages in ensuring that the systems that we set up have the greatest chance of delivering the outcomes that we desire.

Take the GSAT. Papers leak. Teachers & parents cheat. We could review security standards, set up stings, go to all kinds of lengths to try to prevent this. But then we still have a system with a single point of catastrophic failure. What if we have a flood event on the day of the exam? Or an outbreak of a contagious disease?

It's horrible system design,and dealing with the problems caused by that bad design is distracting us from the truly fundamental issue…which is the 5:1 ratio of kids to HS places.