Monday, January 23, 2012

Big Visible Charts

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but
on a stand, and it gives light to all the house. - Mathew 5:15

I've been trying to lose weight for years and carefully monitored my weight every morning. In 2000 I was 180 pounds and I hit a peak of 215 this year. I've tried nearly everything I could think of other than what works in my professional life. So I decided to add hard work and big visible charts to my weight loss regimen. Hard work came in the shape of a dog. Big visible charts came in the shape of recording, analyzing, and changing behavior and seeing the results of that change.

Some wise guy once said, "If you can't measure it, you can't fix it," or something like that. Measurement alone cannot change a situation (outside quantum mechanics); action affects a situation. Measuring, tracking, and analyzing data can provide insight into cause and effect relationships. Making that data visible to the problem solvers and stakeholders can provide motivation to taking action necessary to affect change.

There are many measurements available to software development teams. At the developer level there are lines of code, commits per sprint, and unit tests. The team can look at static code analysis, automated test coverage, broken build counts, and build times. The business side can gather data on defect rates, customer contentment, lost sales due to feature gaps, and profitability. This list is by no means comprehensive, but gives some ideas of common measurements.

After the data is collected it must also be analyzed. Analysis is non-trivial as some things appear to have obvious relationships and analysis show them to be unrelated. Other times relationships are subtle and require looking for non-obvious connections. The goal of analysis is to point to practices or product which will provide improvement.

Making the analysis available, indeed presenting the analysis to the team, will encourage change by generating the force required to create action. Even though measurement and analysis appeared to be action they are only tools to ensure the force generating the action is applied in the correct direction. Visibility is the key to driving change. When measurement of work is easily available and visible each part of the organization can be held accountable for providing their value. Behavior which benefits the organization can be rewarded by reviewing those same big visible charts for results of action.

Only performing measurements on my weight had no effect on my weight gain. In fact, I could plainly see that it was going in the wrong direction without taking concrete action. I knew why my weight was going in the wrong direction, I kept eating and didn't exercise enough. What finally made it possible to make headway in addressing the issue was keeping track, analyzing the data, and making a nice visible chart of my weight over time. It became much easier to hold myself accountable for my actions when it came to eating. The visible charts help me avoid dessert and make me willing to put in the occasional extra mile.

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