Friday, September 03, 2004

Metrics, Grades, School, and Work

by Asim Jalis

Here are some ideas on metrics, grades, and measurement that I have been thinking about for some time. THE GRADE GAME 1. Grades are a game. There have been three phases in my relationship with grades. (a) Initially I was brainwashed by the system to really care about grades. I worked as hard as I could to get A's in everything. (b) At some point I saw through the lie. I took the red pill and realized that this was all an elaborate sham. Grades did not really matter. Naturally, this realization caused them to plummet. (c) The third phase was when I realized that even though this was just a game, grades had to be taken seriously, and for their own sake. 2. Grades are like unit tests around a piece of code. If you get an A it does not mean you learned all the things you were supposed to learn. If you get an F it does not mean that you learned nothing. But there is some correlation. It sets a bar. The bar has to be inaccurate. But it's better than no bar. 3. Grades are a kind of metric. They tell you how cold or hot you are. They are a coarse-grain mechanism for feedback. There is real value here. SCHOOL VERSUS WORK 4. I have noticed that I did much better in school than I do at work. 5. In fact I know several people who were in school with me, and even though I did better than them in school, in our professional lives we have done about the same. 6. There is a pattern here. I was good at school but am average in the real world. There are other people who are good in the real world and were mediocre in school. 7. I was looking at my transcript the other night as I was cleaning my room, and I noticed a pattern. I did poorly on two courses, and they were both independent study courses. There was no feedback during the course. I procrastinated and then at the end of the quarter submitted mediocre deliverables and got burned. 8. This leads me to some insights about why I do well in normal courses. I do well because there is constant feedback. Even though the feedback is coarse-grain and not as precise as it could be, it is there, and it allows me to course-correct. 9. If I am slacking off at the beginning of the quarter the grades allow me to get back on track. 10. In school, grades and deadlines provide structure which allows me to work much better. At work there is no such structure. GRADING WORK PROJECTS 11. So it occurred to me, what if I create the same structure at work. Take work projects, break them down into deliverables with deadlines. Assign a score to each deliverable. Assign a penalty for lateness. At the end of the project compute a project grade by adding up the grades on the deliverables. 12. Let me make this more concrete. The first deliverable for any project will be a list of deliverables. The difference from school is that here I am the instructor and I am the student. So the first deliverable has to provide the structure for the other deliverables. 13. Once I have completed the deliverable (the program or website is online) then the metrics can change to something more process-oriented rather than being project-oriented. The metrics can be the number of people using the tool, customer satisfaction (based on surveys) or other forms of feedback.