Cloud analytics offer insights into work

By using Acunote for cloud analytics, Mark Friedgan was able to gain insights into how his development team worked and how to set deadlines for them.

Outward-facing cloud analytics tell enterprises a number of things about consumers, and that same technology is now being turned inward to inform managers how their employees work.

Mark Friedgan liked the idea of managing his developers and engineers with real data. The former CIO of financial services firm eNova -- he left last year -- is now a semi-retired adviser, but during previous stints in IT he had dealt with the unhappiness of other worker-tracking programs, especially tracking sheets. He knew that they created an environment where employees found ways to game the system rather than do productive work.

"Developers will tell you that any organization that makes you report time is a soul killer," Friedgan said. "They don't want to feel like they are punching the clock."

But the urge to find a better way to manage development teams and the idea that a tool existed to do it was too great to ignore. Notorious for their independence and uniqueness, IT developers don't have metrics like baseball players or sales people do. eNova's projects were managed through Foster City, Calif.-based project management company Acunote. When Acunote started offering cloud analytics capabilities on top of the platform, Friedgan was an early adopter.

That was the first time I saw the ability of a technical team to push back on unrealistic deadlines with data rather than politics.

Mark Friedgan

"We had a lot of reporting and analytics for our lending business; we didn't make decisions for our lending portfolio if they weren't backed up by the numbers," Friedgan said. "This was a tool that let us do the same thing with managing people -- people who are notoriously difficult to manage -- with a data-driven approach."

Friedgan set some ground rules for himself when the company implemented cloud analytics: namely that they would not be used as a way to evaluate individual performance or as a sword dangling over employees' heads if they did not work at a certain pace.

"As soon as you start using analytics to evaluate people, they game the analytics," he said. "You can't use analytics to do that; [developers are] guaranteed to game them."

Instead, Friedgan used the analytic reports to better communicate with his staff, which resulted in a better understanding of how deadlines should work and insight into what works and what doesn't when setting them. He said he learned how to set a reasonable pace for his team and was able to quantify the negative effects when business forces in the company demanded that pace be ramped up through a metric called work velocity. Work Velocity measures productivity based on a number of preset executable actions, such as debugging.

"What happens is you pay for it," he said, citing a development project that was placed under a tight deadline. "Their velocity over the next couple of weeks is depressed from their historical average. They [were] burned out."

Friedgan used historical work velocity to estimate project completion dates rather than guessing on deadlines and found the system to be incredibly accurate. More than that, he felt well-armed with facts when he went into meetings with non-IT business people who were less-inclined to care about developer burnout.

"That was the first time I saw the ability of a technical team to push back on unrealistic deadlines with data rather than politics," he said.

The use of cloud analytics to analyze employees eventually grew to all areas of eNova.

"My organization had 150 people at the time, all using the tool. I had a picture of what every single person was working on," he said, adding that the larger the company grew, the more value there was in being able to analyze employees.

Gleb Arshinov, CEO at Acunote, said that the management analytics are meant to scale and are ideal for larger enterprises.

"Analytics is driven by scale. When you have 10-person company you can look around and see what everyone is doing; it's not that critical," he said.

Friedgan added that analytics tipped him off to problems with employees that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. He could break down reports to find out which members of his development team worked well together and which didn't.  He also relayed an experience about an employee who was dealing with personal problems that weren't covered through analytics.

"I had a developer that was having some problems at home that he didn't really want to tell anyone about," Friedgan said. "I could see his velocity go down, and he wasn't accomplishing as much as he was historically."

Other indicators, like his attendance, hadn't dropped off, and the employee hadn't shared his situation with anyone at the company. After looking at the analytics, Friedgan talked to the employee about it and ended up letting him take time off to resolve it.

Follow the author on Twitter @AdamRiglian

This was first published in July 2012

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