29 September 2015

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

A followup presentation to Rosling's previous TED talk. This serves as another comforting reminder that the world is not in such poor shape as we often think it is, though there is still room for improvement and the future is not certain.

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

24 September 2015

Hans Rosling: The best stats you've ever seen

Rosling uses excellent graphic design and data presentation to show how many of the things we think about the world and not really accurate to the way the world really is. This is a great talk to remind anyone that they should always question the perspective in which data is given.

Hans Rosling: The best stats you've ever seen

21 September 2015

Metrics time!

Our office has recently been on a metrics kick. It seems that we feel like we are not cool enough so we thought we would start reporting data in order to determine where we can improve.

I hate metrics. Well, most of them at least.

Generally they are numbers that are produced periodically in order to help management feel like they are managing (if only because they have summarized work into standardized outputs that can be tracked over time; this is data collection and is good but is often mistaken as metrics too). In the end though, the reports are often neglected, leaves the reporting teams with extra work and often causes the teams to drift into managing the metrics instead of managing their business.

Ultimately, it seems like metrics seem like a distraction from addressing the real, underlying question. This question, the one that is under all the metrics, is usually "How is the business doing?" The answer to this question changes depending on the person being asked (assuming each person manages a different facet of the business) and also changes based on the current context, something metrics are not good at measuring because part of the point of having metrics is to have something consistent to compare performance against over time.

Consider metrics about payroll. Metric ratios could be calculated based on pay versus hours logged in a system, communications handled or number of handshakes. All of these metrics would probably be trying to answer a question about whether the staff is worth their pay, but in a polite way. Before establishing any of these metrics, one should determine if any of these really matter, if they are actually reflective and indicative of the underlying question.

A good way to know if you are measuring the right things in your metrics is to ask, "Inherently, if this number goes up, does the business improve?" In asking this question it is important to explore the 'inherent' context to make sure there are few, if any, underlying assumptions. In order for a metric to be good, it needs to be a number that correlates well with the desired results. In other words, you need to make sure that the metrics cannot be boosted without the business being boosted as well. Otherwise you are probably wasting resources chasing pointless numbers.

Consider a pay versus handshakes ratio metric. The assumption is that more handshakes bring more value and thus makes an employee more profitable to the company and more deserving of their paycheck. Now we can ask our test question from above: "Inherently, if the [number of handshakes an employee performs] goes up, does the business improve?" The quick answer is 'no'. It is very easy to envision situations where a person could dramatically increase their daily handshakes by shaking hands with everyone they see. All the extra handshakes would boost the metric but are unlikely to result in a corollary boost in business.

All of this leads me to say, companies should gather and track data over time, that is how meaning can be found in trends and the impact of changes measured. However, collecting data should never be confused with metrics to hold employees accountable to, especially when that data is laden with false assumptions about correlation.

Improving metrics is not the same as improving business.

16 September 2015

"Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt delves deep into the nuances of driving, the world over. He explores many of the components the influence road safety, driver awareness and even driver culture.

Interest tidbit: "… a samurai in Japan, who kept his scabbard on his left side and would draw with his right arm, wanted to be on the left as he passed potential enemies on the road. So Japan today drives on the left. In England, horse-drawn carts were generally piloted by drivers mounted in the seat. The mostly right-handed drivers would "naturally" sit to the right, holding the reins in the left hand and the whip in the right. The driver could better judge oncoming traffic by traveling on the left. So England drives on the left. But in many other countries, including the United States, a driver often walked along the left side of his horse team or rode the left horse in a team (the left-rear horse if there were more than two), so that he could use his right arm for better control. This meant it was better to stay to the right, so he could judge oncoming traffic and talk to other drivers. The result is that many countries today drive on the right."

03 September 2015

Emily Balcetis: Why some people find exercise harder than others

Balcetis outlines some research she has done regarding how people perceive the world, and exercise in particular. She found that some people really do see exercising as more difficult but that it helps to "keep your eyes on the prize".

Emily Balcetis: Why some people find exercise harder than others