Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Broken Evaluation System (A Rant)

"All's fair in love, war and politics" is a new one I heard recently.  Interestingly, the novitiate in this cliched idiom, 'Politics', doesn't just refer to the Constitutional Political System, but to the politics of life in general.
It got me thinking of the various forms of politics we encounter in our lives.  The most quaint one to me is office politics.  Now politics generally has a negative connotation to it.  I will be neutral in its usage for the purpose of this post.

Having working in the IT service industry for quite some time now, I have experienced and suffered and played my share of dirty politics.  I must admit I am terrible at it, costing me dearly at times.  But like it or not, foul politics in office environments is here to stay, and people unskilled at it had better train to at least safeguard themselves against any malicious attempts.

I will be talking about the IT work culture in specific.  In corporate IT environments, where there are 10 candidates for each position of promotion or each position of evaluation (e.g. good, above avg, avg, bad etc), and all the candidates considering only themselves as the most worthy, the talent managers have an arduous task of picking people.  This is where it gets filthy.
The kind of rating system wherein each talent manager (or a project manager or anyone for that matter) gets a fixed bucket of evaluation numbers is called Stack Ranking.  It implies that the person in charge has to pick people and put them in buckets of Good, Average, Bad etc., and there's no way they can exceed the pre-decided number for each bucket.  This usually annoys me to the core.  Say, for instance, you join a firm and are placed in a team of 10 people.  No matter how hard you work, you are sure that three out of the ten are going to be rated as the best, five as the average and two as bad.

What's wrong with this?  To begin with, this system pits one team member against the other.  It means people in the same team distrust each other and even go to the length of sabotaging each other's work (It happens, all the time).  Ironically, corporations spend a lot on team building training exercises.  Stack ranking means the decision about your pay hike or promotion is completely based on the perception of one person, which might easily be influenced by someone else (who is either in direct competition with you or just dislikes you).  From the corporations' perspective it's bad because it fosters a toxic intra team environment, while the ideal case would be teams competing with each other for excellence.  You win as a team and lose as a team.
In a recent Vanity Fair article the author takes a rancid shot at the Stack Ranking system and how it caused the famous 'Lost Decade' for Microsoft.

In essence I claim that the Stack Ranking system is inherently inefficient, at least in the IT and software development areas which are a talent based and creative kind of work.  This system would work flawlessly in production line jobs and labor works where evaluating performance is simple (number of light bulbs packed per hour, number of screws bolted per day etc.), but it fails at measuring the output in terms of software value produced.  That's the reason IT needed a new kind of project management methodology, aka Agile.  Waterfall and other tested models didn't succeed much.  Almost all Software companies use either Agile or Iterative as the basic methodology of development.

As a conclusion, I state that the priority of any corporation (IT especially) should not be forcing its employees to compete against each other, but motivate them to work towards a common goal, a common team goal.  This works in every creative industry.  Leadership by intimidation and by virtue of designation will only cause harm by losing talent.  Period.

Monday, 2 January 2012

An apple a day no longer keeps the doc away!

 This time I'd like to take a shot at Apple fanatics - the blind mice who follow the late piper named Steve Jobs and jump into the ravines and swim through the muck every time he wants them to. They are mesmerized by his aura. If Steve Jobs says that Rome was built in a day - we agree! In fact, we'd even like to buy Bihar at the price of Rome if Steve is selling it :)

I came across this awesome feature on Android, named "widgets". Wiki defines a widget as "a placeholder for a manufactured device". In the case of operating systems, it refers to an area on the dashboard/desktop/mobile home-screen where an application is running instead of simply having a shortcut or an icon there. For example, look at the below "todo" widget by Astrid.

In any other mobile operating system (I have not checked the new Windows Mobile phones, but I speak of Symbian/Apple/Blackberry), especially your beloved iPhone, there is no such feature. You can't add widgets to the home-screen of your phone. I have been desperately looking for such a feature for so long! I often forget todo items, birthdays and am always at the mercy of gadgets like smartphones to remind me of them. But if I add a todo item to a todo app, I always forgot to open the app and check the list. Similarly, if I set a birthday-reminder, if I am busy i snooze/kill the reminder and forget about it. Now with widgets, the todo items/reminders will always be on my home-screen. Now I pay my bills on time, can see my GPRS/3G usage on the screen all the time and even have important phone-health data being showed on the screen in real-time.

I still use icons/shortcuts for applications like email, contacts, messaging - widgets are not required for everything. But things like reminders/todo/birthdays/live tweets/fb updates can now be seen on the screen all the time - this was an orgasmic discovery for me! Sadly, there weren't any tech-geeks around me when I found this feature :( But I did dash to my sister and tease her to my heart's content. She's one of those bhatke hue log who have iPhones :)

There are many more pleasures that your iPhone cannot offer you. More on Steve Job's forbidden pleasures in the next post.