The only outcome that really matters is the one the customer sees

The other day I was reviewing a set of proposed metrics with a group of business analysts. We had already been through one round of with their metrics and cut the quantity from fifty plus down to about twenty five. It was an improvement, but it still wasn’t good enough.

In the time between the first meeting and this one, which had been a while, my thinking on metrics had evolved some. The issue wasn’t that the team wanted to measure their performance – that’s a good start. The issue was that the team wanted to measure only their performance.

In particular, one measure that caught my attention was the requirements defect rate. In essence, this is a simple measure that is just the number of requirements defects divided by total defects found. But while the definition is simple, the implementation is not. First off, what does it mean to have a requirement defect. Is a misunderstanding about a requirement a requirement defect or a coding defect? If the requirement is missing, is that a requirement defect or was it simply an implied requirement that any reasonable developer ought to have known? For certain, there are some defects where the source of injection is well understood, but many others where it is not.

But more importantly, it finally clicked for me when Dr. Hammer said that, regardless of your role, you should be measured against the customer outcome. The example he used at the time was that a parcel delivery service ought to be measured for on time delivery. And everyone in the organization should, regardless of their job. Why? Because everyone has a hand in making sure the package gets there, directly or indirectly. And, if some teams are allowed to measure themselves differently, they can choose a set of measures that cause sub optimization of the entire process. In essence, if the business analysts focused on what percentage of the defects were requirements issues, quality could get worse (higher overall defect density) while the number of requirements defects stayed about the same. The end result is that the customer would be more unhappy, the business analysts would look unjustifiably good, and nobody would undertake appropriate corrective action.

What end does it serve, as a business analyst or any other team, to have a measure which simply allows you to say “not my fault” while the customer suffers. No, I argue, if you want to make sure it is the customer who is getting what the need and want, then the only measures that matter are the ones that measure what the customer experiences and not some slice which serves only to absolves some team for responsibility to help the organization meet that goal.

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