when you measure for the sake of measuring

Chris Dancy's now infamous minute by minute tracking of his work day shows just how badly management understands how to track the output of employees in creative fields.

counting the days

One of Warren Buffet’s most famous pieces of advice to analytic managers is to measure the things that matter, not just the things that are measurable. It’s a lesson lost on Chris Dancy, the IT professional whose claim to fame is measuring every second of his workday. Every second. I meant it. Every call, meeting, bathroom break, document edit, e-mail reply, and work tweet has a special color coded entry in Google Calendar so his bosses will know exactly what he was doing at 1:13 PM last Tuesday and appreciate his ability to document every moment at the office. Just one thing is left out on his mind-bendingly detailed calendars — how much time he wastes on his pointless endeavor. Seriously, if your boss read that post and thinks this is a good idea, I would highly suggest firing up your resume and passing it along to some good friends because you’re working for someone who doesn’t want to manage employees, you’re working for someone who wants to manage robots and look at dashboards to make pretty reports for executives.

Here’s the thing. Factory work can be easily measured in terms of how much time is spent on a part, how much time is idle, how many widgets are out the door each day, and other very hard metrics that can track how a factory lives and breathes. Service oriented positions like IT have a lot of soft elements to them. Whereas parts have to be manufactured to exact specifications, an important code block can be written in many ways. Sending a 1,000 sprockets to quality control by the end of the day means meeting several orders on schedule. Sending 44 tweets about the newest app throughout the day might mean a few sales, or might mean nothing at all. You get a lot of numbers that don’t actually mean anything by using Dancy’s methodology. Yeah, he goes to a lot of meetings and does a lot of IT paperwork. So what? How many times did he have to do it again because it didn’t provide enough detail to developers? How would the developers rate it and would they rather have someone else do it next time? How thorough was his testing?

If you want decent metrics from your IT department, you have to look at quality of what it sends out to be used. How many people like the products? How many would recommend them to their friends? How much are they willing to pay for them? How many units were sold? What was the overall return on investment and how did the expenses break down overall (labor vs. tools)? Or what’s the turnaround time for fixing a defect? How many defects did internal QA workers catch versus how many were reported by users after shipping? Those are important metrics and they should matter a lot more to IT management than how many times someone like Darcy had to go to the bathroom or how many pages of documents he or she wrote that day. So the idea that if some aspect of your day can be measured it should be, and your bosses will appreciate you just going right ahead and measuring it for them, is absurd to put it gently. Ultimately what matters is what you produce so even if you’re extremely busy and making the most of out your day, if you produce nothing really useful, none of your intricate daily calendars will save you from the HR’s chopping block, and don’t you dare blame that on not measuring your day enough.

# tech // careers / management / measurement / metrics

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