Be careful what you measure #SystemsThinking #Lean #Agile

I was reminded how important it is to be careful what you measure on the weekend. I had to call two call centers and both surprisingly implemented the same Service Level Agreements. Both promised that calls would be answered within two minutes. But surprisingly, both had implemented what I would consider ‘cheats’ to reach those measures.

Both Call Centers would not let calls get through until there were enough people available to guarantee the two minutes response time. Before that people would get a busy signal. I had to call back over 20 times to get a ring tone at one Call Center. They sub-optimized the system!

They were able to say they had two minutes response time because they excluded the hour of my time I kept on re-dialing until I was able to get a ringtone.

This reminded me of Helpdesks that solely measured the closure of tickets. This created the behaviour of Helpdesk analysts closing tickets even if the problem was not fully resolved. They just mentioned that another ticket could be created if the problem still existed. So again, they focused solely on their process, sub-optimized it and the customer suffered.

So be careful on what you decide to measure. In this situation the only measure was a two minute response time. So they changed the system so that they could meet that measure.

They focused solely on a measure that didn’t relate directly to the whole customer service experience. In the end they met their goal and possibly made customer service worse.

Systems Thinking and the Educational System in #Manitoba #agile #teachers

As a father of two younger children, I am taking an increasing interest in the educational system. Saturday during my son’s hockey game, the parents were trading stories of how we were graded when we went to school.

I told the tale of how in Junior High and High School, the teachers used to call out the grades in descending order. I remember it was a painful experience to sit there and hear your name not being called. I also remember how the process set the status of the students in the classroom. There was no guessing as to who the smartest and brightest were. Likewise, there was no hiding those students that were having troubles with the content.

For me, it motivated me beyond belief. I strived to be one of those first ones called. And when I worked hard enough and I was called, the pride and sense of accomplishment I had was unbelievable. And everyone knew that I was competing for the highest marks.

Looking back, I see that this system may have worked for me. But I am sure it hindered the development of some students as well.

New System

To try to mitigate these adverse affects, the Educational System places less emphasis on marks in the early grades. I’ve always had my concerns about the potential downside of this approach. How can I tell how my kids are doing with the subject matter? The new grading system is now less concise and allows for placement into four large categories. I find this grading more subjective and harder to interpret.

That isn’t the point of this Blog though…

It was mentioned by multiple parents of the boys that a new competition has arisen with the boys in the Grade 2 class. Since marks are not disclosed and discussed, the boys compete over the one visible metric – Finishing First.

The boys that finish their work first can move on to other fun activities. They can play or at least choose what activities they would like to do. Although the reports cards report that the boys rush through their work, they are just working in the defined system. By taking the focus away from grades, the boys are displaying the behaviour the system values.


This is a topic for a future Parent/Teacher meeting. I think I’d like to discuss Systems Thinking and the relation to behaviour in the classroom. The educational system has reduced the focus on grades and now speed is the behaviour the system values.

At least grades had some correlation to the learning of the content and ability to progress in future grades. Speed has no correlation to future grades and success in the real world. Speed only matters once you are correct.

For me, this was a great illustration of Systems Thinking. You get what you measure and value.

For me, I’d love to see an Educational System that measures and values:

1) What has been learned

2) Passion and Effort

3) Questions and Curiosity

By the way, I’d like to see teachers graded in the same way. 🙂