>Simplifying IT Performance Measures

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There is the old adage that you can only manage what you measure.

The problem is that most IT organizations either aren’t measuring much, aren’t measuring meaningful indicators, or aren’t measuring in a way that is aligned to the business.

Hence, we have organizations that can’t articulate, get their arms around, or seem to improve their IT performance—because they don’t really even know what their performance is—can anyone even spell p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e? While other organizations, turn out 32 page weekly performance reports in 10 point font that brings no true sense of “are we hitting or missing the mark” to anyone.

There is an interesting article in InformationWeek on a simple method for doing performance metrics for IT called “A Simple Scoring System for Complex Times.”

Obviously nothing is so simple, but the basic premise is that the IT organizations uses a scoring system of -1, 0, and +1 to capture the following:

Screw-ups(-1)—This includes systems or network that goes down, projects that go bad, etc. While we want to minimize these, we don’t necessarily want to drive this category to nothing, since the cost for eliminating every possible error likely outweighs the benefits.

Doing the expected(0)—This means keeping operations running or delivery projects on time and within budget. While this does not usually win the IT department lots of kudos, this category of operations is critical because it is about “keeping everything working smoothly.”

The wins (+1)—This is where we innovate for the organization and encompasses adding new functionality and enhancements that create tangible business improvement. “+1 are what it’s all about. They’re why most of us got into this profession in the first place.” Clearly, not everything we do can be +1’s, since we have to maintain basic IT operational functions and not just add the new proverbial “cool stuff”, and also practically speaking because, the organization “can’t absorb the pace of change.”

So to some extent there is a healthy balance between making some mistakes from which we learn and grow (-1), creating an environment of operational excellence (0), and driving innovation for true business impact (+1).

In addition to measuring the indicators that IT organizations set out in their IT strategic and operational plans, this high-level scoring method could add a summary perspective for a straightforward CIO dashboard.

>Project Failure, Why People Can’t Own Up

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I saw this funny/sad Dilbert cartoon on project management by Scott Adams (BTW, he’s terrific!).

It goes like this:

Office colleague (water cooler talk): How’s your project coming along?

Dilbert: It’s a steaming pile of failure. It’s like fifteen drunken monkeys with a jigsaw puzzle.

New scene….

Boss: How’s your project coming along?

Dilbert: Fine.

END

This common work scenario is sort of like a game of truth or dare: you either have to tell the project truth or take the dare and do something embarrassing like proceed with the project that isn’t on track.

Teammates, colleagues, peers often talk frankly and honestly about the problems with their projects and often the talk may become sarcastic or even somewhat cynical, because they know that they can’t tell their bosses what is REALLY going on.

What a shame in terms of lost opportunities to communicate, solve problems, and drive project success for the organization.

People are afraid to be honest, direct, tell the truth, and work together with their management on constructive solutions.

Instead, people simply say everything is fine, period.

Sort of like when your boss asks politely at work how are you doing? And rather than say, well I woke up late, missed my train, spilled coffee on my tie, and am having trouble meeting my deadlines this week, the person almost always replies, reflexively, “I’m fine” and “How are you?”

Another manifestation of the it’s fine syndrome is with executive dashboards or project scorecard reviews where virtually all the metrics show up as “green”, even when you know they are not—does yellow or red sound too scary to have to put on paper/screen and explain to the boss.

We are conditioned NOT to talk casually or to report to our superiors about issues, problems, or anything that can be perceived as negative, least they be labeled as trouble-makers or “the problem,” rather than the solution. Ultimately, employees don’t want to be blamed for the failures, so they would rather hide the truth then own up to the project issues, and work constructively with their management on solutions or course correction—before it’s too late.

Now isn’t that a novel idea? Management and staff working together, actually identifying the issues—proactively and in forthright manner—and working together to resolve them, rather than sitting across the table, sugar-coating or pointing the accusatory finger.

People have to take responsibility and own up when there is a problem and be willing to talk about them with their management, and management needs to encourage frankness, a “no surprises” culture, and a team-collaborative environment to solving problems rather than instilling fear in their employees or implicitly or explicitly communicating that they only want to hear “good news.”

Good news is not good news when it’s fabricated, a distortion, or a complete sham.

A culture of teamwork, collaboration, honesty, and integrity is the underpinning of project success. If everything in the project “is fine”, it’s probably not.