In this era of big data, we have become infatuated with the promise of how we can improve every aspect of our lives by better collecting data, analyzing it, and managing our lives to various data points. In business if you haven't heard someone in your organization parrot Peter Drucker's mantra that "you can't manage what you don't measure," then you must be running short on fresh MBA's.
While I won't argue that there is some truth to this, this path of managing by measurement seems to repeatably lead us to the land of unintended consequences. Have some patience with me as I go a bit abstract for a minute. The pattern seems to be something like the following:
We want situation X to get better
We examine various situations in which X gets better
We identify the history of this case where X got better, and we identify data points that we can follow like the yellow brick road that led to the improvement of X
We move to the new case where we want to see X improve and get a baseline on the data points
We then take actions to see progress on those data points, with the expectation that this will lead us to X improving
We expect to see (6) 'X improved,' but this is where we end up in the land of unintended consequences. The people involved in the process become aware that what they need to do is hit the various data points, and what they do is bend the process in whatever way they need to in order to hit those data points. Unfortunately, the data points are hit, but 'X is not improved'.
It is as if there is some social version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work where once we're consciously measuring for particular data points as indicators as progress to 'X improved,' those data points are no longer a true indicator of that progress. Instead achieving the data points themselves become the end in focus, and in so doing, they are no longer the means to the true improvement initially desired.
Let me give a few concrete examples of this.
Testing in schools. We've wanted to improve the quality of our schools, so we've looked to standardized testing to provide concrete measuring blocks of progress. Instead of improving education however, its led to the extreme bending of educational process to "teach to the test." Those whose livelihood is tied to this performance now focus on developing good test takers rather than students with good fundamental skills because they have been given that as their new explicit goal. I'm sure you have heard of numerous examples of this for yourself. Here is a recent blog entry of a long-standing teacher in Texas lamenting the impact this has had in her school. http://marybethlee.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/a-plea-from-a-teacher/
CompStat in policing. In 1994, New York started tracking crimes with a system called CompStat for the first time. Following the data and modifying policing to address trends initially led to major improvements with serious crime apparently dropping by as much as 77%. The emphasis on data tracking led to a focus on the number of tickets officers were writing and other minor policing action. This created an environment were police officers were directly or indirectly pressured to ticket and detain individuals without justification. In worse cases, it led to police intentionally mis-classifying serious crimes as minor crimes or encouraging victims not to officially report them at all. For one police officer who was interested in truly taking care of his neighborhood and not concerned about the measured numbers, it led to harrassment and even unwilling "hospitalization". If you haven't heard about the case of Adrian Schoolcraft, I strongly encourage you to pop over and listen to this episode of This American Life.
Rebuilding in Iraq. If you like horror stories, you should read: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. OK, it is not technically a horror story. But in a time of economic troubles we have not witnessed since the Great Depression and the number of families who have lost their homes to foreclosure, to learn of the excessive waste of money our government has committed without positive impact in Iraq is a true horror in its own way. Peter Van Buren chronicles how the focus in Iraq became on how many projects were being completed, and not what type of projects nor whether they had any positive impact on rebuilding Iraq. A great example was the creation of a multimillion dollar automated chicken processing plant which created few jobs (because of the automation) and yet was so expensive to operate, that the chickens processed at the plant could not be brought to market in a less expensive means than traditional processes. Thus millions were spent but ultimately no jobs were created (except those temporary positions to pay people to staff the plant when reporters visited). I encourage you to read the book, but you can also get a sense of this by listening to an interview of Van Buren on NPR's Fresh Air.
Medical Treatment. In our seriously dysfunctional medical industry in the United States, physicians are being measured not on patient outcomes, but on how many patients they are seeing or tests they are ordering. Similarly, technology is being implemented to track both staff and patients literally wherever they are in hospitals. Now there are good reasons to use this technology for things like patient safety, locating needed resources and facilitating critical fast responses. But from personal experiences, I know of health care professionals who are also being monitored on how much time they are spending with patients. The focus once again shifts from what we want improved, operational efficiency in hospitals as evidenced by getting patients healthy, and moves to management data points, namely do the data points show you're an efficient health care provider.
Call Centers. Dilbert provides us a humorous example of this taken to the extreme in a call center, but I'm sure those working in call centers where their time is monitored by the minute and calls are recorded could provide some real-life examples as well. By managing through measurement, the focus gets distorted away from the true purpose of a call center, customer support, and instead gets placed on measurements that show how many callers we're serving.
What's the moral of the story? I don't have any great solution to share on all of this. I hope that by drawing attention to this problem that has cropped up in such diverse professions as teaching to health care to policing that we'll all be more aware of this common trap. As they say, humans are the only animal that will trip over the same stone twice. As you look to implement management by measurement in your endeavors, but careful that you are measuring what is truly meaningful, and that by implementing the measuring and management process you aren't actually heading away from your ultimate goal.
Thu, Feb 7th 2013 9:10a Phil Salm You can find a more detailed overview of the conference from me on the CDW Solutions Blog, but here are some personal reflections. I'm not exactly sure which year I first began going to Lotusphere--I believe it was 1999, soon after I began working in the e-Learning field at the University of Wisconsin Learning Innovations. Whoever assembled the big picture mural at the conference -- thank you! It was quite fun looking back and remembering. I think I've missed one since 1999. Like for man [read] Keywords: collaboration
Cisco Releases Major Update to Plug-in for Sametime
Thu, Jan 24th 2013 8:12a Phil Salm Cisco released a major update in December to their integration with Sametime, which they are now calling CUCI-IBM. The plug-in is a great step forward over previous integration options, and includes: streamlined UIintegrated softphonevideo calls call historycall forwarding, and much more.You can read a more in-depth overview of the plug-in and see several screenshots of it in the posting I made on the CDW Solutions blog. One integration point I didn't mention in the overview is that both phon [read] Keywords: ibm
CDW Customer Event at IBM Connect
Fri, Jan 4th 2013 9:11a Phil Salm Once again CDW will be hosting a customer appreciation event at the IBM Connect conference. This year's event will be held Tuesday evening, January 29th, and will involve great food, bowling and billiards. If you are a CDW customer attending the conference and would like to attend this event, reach out to your CDW Account Manager and ask for an invitation. Or you can email me at email@example.com for more details. I look forward to seeing you there! [read] Keywords: collaboration
Invitation to an Open Discussion from Wisconsinites
Thu, May 17th 2012 12:12a Phil Salm I will likely regret this, but I feel compelled to post my views on the Wisconsin Gubernatorial recall election. Why? I'd like to try to generate an open, respectful, and thoughtful discussion to a potentially wider range of Wisconsinites than doing so solely in a closed environment like Facebook allows. Why do I suspect I'll regret it? Well, I was very active in politics in high school--particularly in the anti-abortion movement. I stopped being heavily involved in politics for two primar [read] Keywords: blogger
New Cisco Plug-in Demos
Wed, Apr 11th 2012 5:12p Phil Salm I've put together a couple of video demos of the Cisco Voicemail Plug-in and the Cisco Phone Control and Presence Plug-in. Hopefully they convey some of the great features that they provide. They are best viewed full screen. The plug-ins require that the user is licensed for Sametime Standard. But the plug-ins themselves are free. So if you have Cisco telephony and a Lotus Notes environment today, you really should be looking at deploying them for your end-users. The only additional hardw [read] Keywords: lotus
Wed, Mar 28th 2012 11:12p Phil Salm In this era of big data, we have become infatuated with the promise of how we can improve every aspect of our lives by better collecting data, analyzing it, and managing our lives to various data points. In business if you haven't heard someone in your organization parrot Peter Drucker's mantra that "you can't manage what you don't measure," then you must be running short on fresh MBA's. While I won't argue that there is some truth to this, this path of managing by measurement seems to [read] Keywords: blogger
The Video Mega-Conference with Polycom and IBM
Tue, Jan 24th 2012 9:10p Phil Salm I had the good privilege of attending a launch event at the Polycom Solution Center in Chicago today. Not surprisingly, they have an amazing video-conferencing facility. We had over 300 attendees conferenced together for today's event, from locations including: Santa Clara, Seattle, Dallas, New York, Atlanta and more. If you've not had the good fortune to see one of these Polycom Solution Center's in person, it is worth the time. The video is amazing, and the audio is crystal clear. It [read] Keywords: ibm
Healthcare Solutions at Lotusphere?
Tue, Jan 10th 2012 10:11p Phil Salm As 2012 kicks off, I have some new excitement brewing for me in addition to the annual Lotusphere anticipation. This year I will have a new focus on IBM software solutions for healthcare. This is extremely exciting to me as I get to spend time in a field where information technology can make significant improvements to people's lives, not just bottom lines. And I'm very fortunate to enter this space at a time when leading-edge technology based on IBM's Watson is being transformed and appli [read] Keywords: ibm