Thursday, July 30, 2009

If a tree falls in the woods...

I came across the Copenhagen Interpretation in a book I'm reading. This idea came about in quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others, working in Copenhagen in the early 20th century. In simple terms, the Copenhagen Interpretation says that something doesn't exist until we observe it. So if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, it doesn't make a sound.

So what are we trying to observe on our projects? What do we try to capture by our reports, metrics, SLAs etc? The Copenhagen Interpretation supports the idea that we get what we are looking for.

I was doing work at a call center one time. There, they were looking at what percent of time the representatives were available to take calls and when they were "logged out" meaning they were taking a break, doing documentation from a previous call etc. This data point was pretty consistent across the representatives. However, when they dug a little deeper, they found a small set of people that answered significantly fewer calls. This didn't make sense since their availability was the same as others.

As it turns out, some representatives figured out how to scam the system. They watched the representatives around them getting calls and could predict when they would get a call. They logged out for a few seconds, the call went to the next representative over, and they logged back as available, knowing they wouldn't get another call sent to them for a while.

So you're going to get the behavior you look for and reward. If you reward the number of bugs the coders find, they'll find a lot of bugs. If you recognize the person that can fix the crisis, you'll get a lot of fires that need to be fought. So don't think lightly about what you measure.

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