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Operational Definitions

Drupalcamp Colorado — Online 2020

The goal of an IT organization is to help the business show a profit through the delivery of valuable software. As we consider our process, instead of thinking in terms of projects, think in terms of capabilities needed to complete the work. The concept of capability implies measurability. Measurements taken from a stable process establishes a baseline for predictability. Predictability is needed to support planning, including budgeting. Yet we find that accurate communication about what is meant by capability is a significant problem.

Meaning starts with the concept, which is in somebody’s mind, and only there: it is ineffable.

— W. Edwards Deming — Out of the Crisis

Each measurement of a process is effectively a sample, and when we talk about metrics, we’re really talking about a series of samples. In order for us to believe in reported metrics, we need to have confidence that the measurements of the series are of the same thing and taken in a consistent manner. We pin our confidence on a set of statements about our metrics process that are sufficiently unambiguous to allow different people to arrive at a common understanding of what is meant. Definitions of terms used to support metrics are called operational definitions.

pattern language

Let's agree to define productivity in terms of throughput. We can debate the meaning of productivity in terms of additional measurements of the business value of delivered work, but as Eliyahu Goldratt pointed out in his critique of the Balanced Scorecard, there is a virtue in simplicity. Throughput doesn’t answer all our questions about business value, but it is a sufficient metric for the context of evaluating the relationship of practices with productivity.