Musings on measuring

Nothing happens just because you measure. You don’t lose weight just by weighing yourself. Or maybe I did not stand there long enough? (Bjarte Bogsnes on Twitter, 16/02/2014)

Count something (Atul Gawande, Suggestions for becoming a Positive Deviant, in Better

We’ve all learnt from lean that measuring is good. But the passion for measurement is sometime, not matched by actually doing anything meaningful as a result of having that data. Ten out of ten for data, minus several million points out of ten for not actually using it.

What’s more, I’ve seen folk insist that data (x) is the most important metric, then the next week it’s ‘ah, we need to be tracking (y)’, after a few weeks you end up with a mountain of data and no sense of either what any of it means, nor what you would do in response to that data, or the experiments you’d run to move the needle. Not just standing on the scales, but skipping from scale to scale, buying a new one every other day, then deciding that what you’re really interested in is your shoe size, not your weight.

I do see two uses for measuring, though. The first is the scientific, experimental use. We hypothesise X, decide what to measure that will validate or disprove the hypothesis,

There’s also measuring for monitoring. Not just strong signals (hey, the internet’s down), but also weak signals (mmm… the engine sounds slightly different today, I wonder what’s going on). This kind of operational measurement is just as important.

We need both kinds of measurement: the first to guide us to where value lives, the second to keep us close to how that value’s being delivered.

Recent research shows…

I wish there were a stronger recourse than ridicule or anger to this increasing phenomenon. Sadly there isn’t, but please: if you’re a journalist, editor, blogger, conference speaker, tweeter, next time you write “recent research shows…” please put a link or a reference to that research. If you don’t, it shows that you’re either (a) not sure that it does show what you’re trying to claim, and don’t want readers to make an independent judgement, (b) intellectually lazy, or (c) just making it up. If you’re writing online, a link is good. If in text, a shortened URL will do just fine. As long as it’s there.

After all, recent research shows that people who don’t cite their references go on to have incredibly disappointing sex lives.*

* I made that up. But at least I’m telling you that I made it up.

Happy High Status: on meeting a hero

After Jonathan Leathwood’s outstanding debut at London’s Wigmore Hall earlier this week, I was lucky enough to meet a hero — the guitarist Julian Bream, one of the great figures in the rebirth of the guitar as an instrument taken seriously in the world of classical music.

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Educating programmers - suddenly everywhere?

Odd how an idea that brews for a while is suddenly thrown into prominence.

With some 30 others I was delighted to be part of the Educating Programmers summit, organised by Jason Gorman and held at Bletchley Park last week. The very next day (it really couldn’t have been timed better) Eric Schmidt, in the McTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, generated significantly more awareness of the woeful state of computing education in this country:

You need to start at the beginning with education. We need to re-ignite children’s passion for science, engineering and maths … I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made.

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A certain detachment

It really began with the ants. We’d returned from a Saturday shop to find an outbreak of the flying variety in our kitchen. I’d had a day or two of feeling that maybe the dry and dusty conditions in London had left a few more things than usual floating in my eyes, but it was then that I suspected something else might be the matter, as despite the deployment of powder, sprays and a vacuum cleaner to the invaders, I was still seeing little black things, moving into and out of sight in the periphery of vision. At this point, nothing else: I resolved to call in to the doctor on the following Monday.

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Desire paths, social networks, shadow organisations

Prompted by Scott Berkun’s recent post on thinking in desire paths, here’s a picture of a Finnish equivalent:*

Desire path at Kera station, Helsinki

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Learning from Sondheim

Santa came early, and delivered Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat — lyrics from the musicals from 1954 to 1981, with (as the subtitle puts it) “attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes”. If you’re at all into theatre, musicals, music, or just writing, you’ll enjoy this book immensely (it’s nicely produced, too, and would make a great present - and no, I don;t have shares). But a couple of general things stand out.

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Don’t talk to me about tango…

“Agile is like tango - it’s about the passion, not about the steps” (Jeff Sutherland, tweeted by @jaredrichardson)

Wrong on many levels, Jeff. Oh, it’s a neat soundbyte, and if you don’t know tango and are feeling enthusiastic but anxious about agile it might give you a bit of a buzz. But saying tango is “not about the steps” is like saying music “is not about the notes”.
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Penguins and architecture

A delicious quotation from Ian Nairn, in a letter to the Guardian this week (from Andrew Huxtable).

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Teams, coaches, coachees

Diana Larsen recently tweeted about an ideal team being one which everyone can be a coach — a mutually coaching team. There’s an important corollary to this: such a team must be a team of people willing and able to be coached. Often not a characteristic of software developers (and — dare I say it — not as prevalent amongst coaches as we’d like it to be). Requires humility, a willingness to accept that someone else’s way of doing things might be better than yours, a readiness to learn (yes, maybe from someone younger than you, or who you consider to be less experienced) and to change.