Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stop Treating people like Data Points

People are not data points.
I entered the technology business to try and make a difference.  I became an agilest because I spent too much of my time following the orders of damaged, neurotic, and mean people.  They were the kind of people who used their position of power for petty displays of superiority.   I knew there was a better way to lead others.  I knew there was a better way to get work done.  This is why I become an agilest.

Along with the spread of Agile, another trend cropped up in business.  This was the use of big data and algorithms to make decisions.  I trace the origin of that back to the book “Moneyball” and the story of the Oakland Athletics using data to improve the performance of the ball club without having to spend money like the New York Yankees.  Since then, the use of advanced statistical metrics has exploded in baseball.  What worked in professional sports was adopted into other businesses.

I call this neo-Taylorism after the business pioneer Frederick Winslow Taylor who authored the book, “Principles of Scientific Management”. Taylor did make the factory floor safer and faster but it also treated the people who did the work no differently than the machine tools or materials used to make the product.  The demands of Taylorism in business created a backlash and unions grew in strength and influence.

As our economy shifted from a manufacturing to a service economy, neo-Taylorism reared its ugly head in the cubical farms across our nation.  Customer service reps were measured on how long people waited on hold.  Sales people were judged on how many cold calls they made a day.  It was also used in human resources as Credit Scores were used to determine reliability.

This began to reduce people to data points rather than individuals.  It also gave professionals and people like me a bad name.   It is no wonder that professionals are held in such contempt in certain parts of the country.  When you see someone as an entry in a spreadsheet instead as a person and they are bound to view you with contempt.

This is why I don’t like to use metrics as a menu to set expectations for the team which works with me.  Instead, I like to use metrics to show how we can improve performance and how we did in the past.  I truly believe that once you use a metric as a quota it ceases to be useful.

So to my friend in the agile community, please continue to measure the performance of your teams.  Just do not use those metrics as quota’s because if you do everyone being judged by these metrics will game the system to make them better than they actually are.  If we are going to measure performance and be agile we need to treat people like individuals rather than points of data.  Otherwise, we will suffer a backlash of our own.

Until next time.