Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Measurement and feedback

The preoccupation with measuring every aspect of IT efficiency seems to be ever increasing. It seems like there is no limit to what piles of rubbish management and their followers are trying to collect in order to find the one measure that will tell them how their organisation or department is doing.

The problem is that there are lots of things you can measure, and some may even tell you something about the actual performance, but most measurement seems to be a waste of time. Some measures are too abstract to be of any use, like "rate of success". Others are just too detailed to be useful, like lines of code written per day.

In my opinion you can spend your time better by arranging for your teams to have feedback loops in stead of figuring out new and better measures. The shorter the feedback loops the better, since if things change quickly you need to react quickly. With sufficient feedback you can be fairly sure that you are doing the right thing, or else you will know about it quickly. There are numerous examples from nature where feedback loops regulate and interact in order to steer processes and their outcome, examples ranging from metabolism to neural activity.

One of the keys here is that the sensors in nature are integral parts of the process like for example proteins catalysing the conversion of one substance to an otherbeing inhibited by the end product and stimulated by the raw material. The centralized control seems to be kept to a minimum, and only exercised as a means of giving over all direction, so why not mimic the same in IT?

Empowering everyone to make sane decisions based on feedback, or even listening to feedback at all must feel threatening to management accustomed to safely measuring and them self interpreting the result. However, if what counts is the end result and over all efficiency, the score seems clear.