Friday, June 16, 2006

Information Radiators

If you are to maintain a sense of progress against all traditional evidence to the contrary, and if you are to successfully convince the management of your company that your team is a hotbed of useful activity, then it's vital to festoon every wall of your development area with diagrams, charts and other visuals that imply total progress. The first complaint of management will be that they don't understand what this progress means and that the units don't compare with any other data they get. Your job should be to protect the team from these complaints and ensure that the reporting system you use is unique to the team and totally unintelligible by management. You can get away with this by explaining to management that the charts are internal to the team and not for public consumption.

However, with a diagram you can prove anything, so if you want to get some particular advantage for your team, like free cokes, or the ability to lock the door to keep troublemakers out, then all you need to do is schedule a trial of the thing you want and then rig your diagrams to show a marked improvement during the trial. Simple. Management will constantly want to use your diagrams to show how successful they have been, but will also want to standardise and be able to interpret these diagrams in real terms. In this situation, change the diagram.

Information radiators are great because they suggest tons and prove nothing. If you are to get away with a process oriented approach to your job, then you must be able to imply that the process needs constant improvement. The more diagrams, the more pseudo-evidence you'll have for this. Information radiators also allow a process called gaming. Gaming is where the team are able to improve their performance by optimising the exact thing that is being measured - this could well be an improvement in the output of the team, or it could simply be a micro-optimisation of whatever it is that you want to show the world. For instance, who is to know whether a rising chart is a good or bad thing, for a particular measure? Perhaps one chart might show the number of coffees drunk, which if it rises, might suggest people are really thinking over their problems over steamy beverages... which might be a good thing, but which could easily be improved by feeding the team salt so they're thirstier, or by simply offering to get a round of drinks in, which will make the lazy bastards drink more, regardless of what they're doing.

Important: gaming your charts is the best way to enhance their placebo-effect or "tenko".

With so much opportunity for obfuscating the work of the team with walls full of information, and even an opportunity to campaign for your own room in order to gain these walls (and also gain further placebo effect from the closed-door = more productivity measurement you can rig), I thought it would be useful to list some ideas for charts you could put up.

Worth Putting On Your Walls
  • Number of tasks completed - don't specify how big a task is, and make the tasks smaller to improve performance
  • Number of conferences attended
  • Money spent on consultants
  • Time spent pairing (or halving individual productivity)
  • The age of the oldest member of the team
  • The age in minutes of the oldest support incident awaiting work
  • The number of members of the team
  • The number of members of the team who would piss on the Agile coach if he/she were on fire
  • The pig to chicken ratio
  • Length of the stand-up meeting

Never Measure
  • The amount of work completed in any coherent or consistent units
  • The number of bugs outstanding - if you have to, then throw away bugs that you don't like
  • The amount of time spent each day updating the charts
  • The resentment in the team - this should be on the rise, but chart that separately and privately
  • The number of corners cut in the name of progress
  • The number of people in every single meeting
  • The number of Agile books you've read
  • The number of Agilista asses you've kissed
  • The number of jobs your team members have applied for


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