15 May

Woody Guthrie is not Complicated


There is a great scene that takes place in “Dude, where’s my car” (I know what you’re thinking, but stick with me on this one) where our two heroes are ordering takeout at the drive-thru window. After every item ordered, the voice comes over the squawk box asking “and then…” causing the order to grow exponentially until finally culminating in the destruction of the box itself. Just when you think it’s over, a disembodied voice asks, mockingly, “and then…” one last time. Now, imagine that you are trying to gather metrics. Hearing those two words repeated ad nauseum is enough to make you want walk headfirst into a wall over and over.

I think Woody Guthrie said it best; “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple”. In this day and age of instant gratification there seems to be a trend in what I like to call “Death by Metrics”. Now don’t get me wrong, I think metrics are a great tool, but when is enough enough?

I have seen so many teams die a slow death because there is so much emphasis in providing insight to the varying levels of management and Stakeholders on any given project, that the teams end up focusing more on creating the metrics than it does creating the product. One of the core lessons in CPDE (Certified Process Design Engineering) is “Metrics for the sake of metrics is bad, m’kay?” (ok so I added the m’kay, but you get the meaning).

There should be a goal to the information that you are gathering, aside from making pretty Pie Charts and Spider Graphs that look great in a Power Point presentation. Believe me, I love pretty pictures, but when I am looking for information or trying to paint a picture for the client, simple is better. Reporting information, especially to varying levels of management and/ or departments should be done in as few words as possible to avoid confusion and duplication of effort. Work smarter, not harder.

In this, the dawning of the age of Agile, it is more about maximum output from minimum effort.

  • You don’t need to be busy 100% of the time,
  • You don’t need to work 60 hours a week,
  • You don’t need to constantly rework the metrics because Ed from logistics needs more info on the TPS report for his meeting with Dante from downstairs.

Summarize what you are trying to say, have information at the ready if more granularity is needed by someone. Here’s a crazy idea; ask management what the most important items to capture are and present it to them in a manner that cuts through the fluff.


Measure twice, cut once.

No “and then”.

Please drive through.

Photo Credit: http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c30859/


5 thoughts on “Woody Guthrie is not Complicated

  1. Although providing stakeholders lots details about a project could help with acceptance of deliverables, I think you are correct by emphasizing the importance of paying more attention to “what” you say and not “how much” you say. The key is to inform, not overwhelm! Great post, Colin! Thank you!

  2. It’s good to see the focus of metrics shifting from “everything and anything” to what is meaningful. I see this shift becoming more important in many aspects of project management. Good post!!

    • It reminds me of baseball (just about everything does,) but when sabrmetrics was introduced (watch the movie “Money Ball”) very few thought it would work. When the idea it became successful, people went nuts over metrics. As if baseball didn’t already have enough numbers in it, they started building teams off of metrics alone and… come to find out, numbers and metrics are good but you still need intuition to gain full potential.

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