Ever wonder when you will use those physics principles in real life?
Believe it or not, we can apply some basic physics concepts to management.
People often talk about how hard they work, and they measure this work in units such as lines of code written, hours on call or tickets closed. Managers then roll these up for the team as a way to measure value to the organization and productivity. The more tickets a team can close measures the magnitude of their work. These measures tell only a part of the story. Let us go back to physics.
Scalar quantities are magnitudes – the length of a line, the speed of a car, the temperature outside. We use scalars to describe the amount of something. How much time was spent working on that problem? How many issues did the team resolve today?
Vector quantities have magnitude plus direction. Two points on a graph show the direction of the line as well as its length. Two GPS coordinates with associated time will tell us in which direction and how fast our car is moving. In each of these examples, there are two points for a vector – where you start and where you finish.
As a manager of a technical team, it is important to look at the vector of your team’s work, not simply because its scalars. Vectors help us understand whether the work is not just hard work but is also valuable work. Did that work help you get to where you wanted to go?
In managing a team, assessing your current position, and setting a target destination gives your team the direction they need to make their work valuable to the organization. First, managers should evaluate the current people, processes and technologies used to execute work. Where are your strengths and where can you improve across all three dimensions? If you do not objectively know where you are, you can not set the proper direction for your team to reach its goals. Consider your vector – it requires both points – where you are and where you are going. Second, managers need to set smart goals for those people, processes and technologies that align with the organization’s goals. What would you consider success in a given time period? Once you have a solid assessment of where you are and you have defined your goal, you will need to develop the right vector for the team to be successful. Sounds simple, right?
Let’s take an example. A media company is developing a new product. This product has several domains of knowledge – content management, app and web UI/UX, and user profile are just three of the domains most relevant to this example. The product team writes user stories to describe how a consumer wants to log into the app to find content they like based on their past behavior. This personalization will drive the sticky behavior the product managers need. The more people experience the content, the more they want to experience new content and the more time they spend on the app. The technology team uses a ticketing system to complete their work. Developers log into their queue and complete work assigned to them on tickets. Where they receive ad hoc requests, they can create new tickets to resolve. As a technology manager, I set up metrics for the team for closing tickets.
This to me shows the productivity of the team and I create reports on our team velocity. We work on the continuous improvement of the app and web experience as requested from our product team and our technology team’s reduction of technical debt over time. This measure of our value is in total tickets closed per week and is a clear scalar quantity. Is it also a vector? Does this measure describe the types of tickets closed and are the types of tickets aligned to business goals?
Unfortunately not yet, but it can be. As a manager, I need to set up my measurement to be a vector– how is my team improving the product from where it is today to a new and better experience for my consumers? My tickets need to be tagged for how much that work will improve the personalization for the consumer. I need to understand how to prioritize the tickets by business value and to do that I need to know where we are and where we are going. The tickets we close need to drive us to our goal which is closing the right tickets that drive personalization. Of course, closing tickets for our tech debt still needs to be addressed for long term system health while we follow our vector. We can walk and chew gum. Shifting our thinking as managers from scalars to vectors, helps our teams see their contributions to business value.