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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Measuring & Managing

   In our never-ending quest for assurance, we jump on anything that sounds simple and can pass for realistic. Here’s one such thing, a commandment for managers:
     “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
     True or False?
     You could almost say the famous statement is both. It’s true and it’s false. (Sort of like the good ol’ boys of The Great White North who liked to “both eat in and take out.”)
     It’s true that managers must have ways to determine the effectiveness of their efforts. They’re investing to make things happen, and they need to know how it’s going. Managers build processes, then tend and adjust them to achieve maximum benefit.
     They have to keep track along the way.
     But it’s not always mathematical. With the really important things, assessment of progress usually is too subtle for quantification alone. There may be evidence of progress or slippage. There may appear to be both.

     The situation calls for judgment and risk management, because you can’t be really sure until the result is in hand, good, bad or whatever. It is what it is at that point, and  it’s beyond management.
     While it’s under way, it’s all on you, the manager. The only assurance is that indecision will produce failure.
     Good management includes the ability to act assertively in the face of ambiguity, knowing how to take chances and knowing what to do when the gamble isn’t going your way.
     Bad management includes avoiding the very prospect of danger, but the faker has to do stuff that looks managerial.
    A favorite tactic of mismanagers is to use measurement as if it’s actual management all by itself.  
    That superficializes the situation and seriously mistreats the people who have to do the real work. It also obscures what’s really going on.
     Poor managers often look for some shallow prefabrication to ease the burden of decision-making.

     I once had a manager who enjoyed torturing his underlings (including me) by enforcing grim work rules, then excoriating the poor devils (including me) who didn’t  meet his dictates.
     When this kind of incompetent sadist is in charge, many victims twist in the wind for a while, sometimes a long while, then flee.
     Others survive, maybe thrive if they enjoy the game, then flee if they don’t outlast the monster. I was one of those Great White North-type survivor-departers.
     Still, I shared in a significant victory during my tenure there.
     This boss had the standard basic personnel policy of such people: In his mind, his staff members were not only incompetent but lazy and dishonest (see Douglas McGregor Theory X). That’s what he always had been, and he couldn’t conceive of anyone being anything else.   

     In the case in point, I was directed to carry out a major project, a large, one-time special section of our daily newspaper.
     The deadline was six months off, but this constituted a heavy added workload for a staff already fully occupied. We could do it , but editors, writers and photographers would have to work out some significant collaboration for the entire six-month duration.
     The boss really needed to look good on this one, but he had neither the intention nor the ability to sit down with the staff and organize a successful effort.
     His response to the challenge was typical. He ordered me to assign staff members to tasks for completion from that point on (remember, it was six months before publication deadline).
     I was to report every week, in writing, on work assigned and completed. Beginning right then. He wasn’t about to allow himself to be victimized. He was not bothered at all by the callous ignorance of his demands, or by the fact that their only real effect would be destructive.

     The content of the section was time-critical, so anything done that far ahead would require extensive additional work close to publication – assuming it would still have any value at all. His only concern was to get his weekly reports (that would be twice-weekly during the last month before the deadline).
     So we created a report form that had several dozen line items, some of truly imaginative specificity: There were a number of different kinds of photograph assignments. There were article assignments, article drafting deadlines, draft review conferences. Lots of stuff.
     The report had 30 columns, one for each week of the first five months and two each week for the last month..
     When the newly designed report was submitted for approval, every space on every line in every column had an “x” in it. We weren’t about to have the boss see wide-open spaces.
     At the end of the first week, the first report was duly submitted.
    A number of the xes had been replaced by numbers for assignments given out, and a few even for assignments completed. There was no summary of any kind, and none was requested. Every page was full – almost all xes.

     Then, as assignments were given out, drafts edited and approved or returned for rework, additional numbers were entered into the form.
     There was a lot to look at, but not much to see, for a long time. The growing sheaf of weekly documents did the job, which was to evade the bully’s whip. There were no punishment sessions, at least about that project.
     And, of course, the special edition was completed on time, a fine job and a tribute to the professionals on that staff.
     The measure of the “manager” was 30 worthless documents.

Question: If you don’t measure somehow, what do you do to track progress?
SEE ALSO: Factoids: Junk Food of the Mind



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