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Saturday, July 28, 2012

A request to pull forward and then back up

I've been on both sides of metrics. I've worked tickets and taken phone calls and received awards for "crunch power". I've also written tools and graphs which are used to see who's doing what, and more importantly, who's being lazy.

One thing which is abundantly clear is that metrics can be gamed. What I hadn't realized is just how well this is known, and the lengths people will go to operate within such systems. It goes well beyond the realm of tech support, phone calls, and support tickets.

Most recently, I've seen it in the fast food industry. I've known for a while that any time they ask you to do something unusual with your car, it's probably related to a vehicle sensor and timer. Some time back, I went to one such place to grab dinner. After a few minutes parked at their window with only half of my order (drink, but no food yet), someone poked his head out and asked me if I could do something odd.

Can you, uh, pull up a little, then pull back?

Nobody else was around, so I did that, and he was happy. I said something about it but received no acknowledgement.

Last week, I was at another place and something similar happened. I got the same request, but this time I said "oh, resetting the timer, huh?", and rolled forward, then back. Upon returning to the window, I actually got a response:

Oh, you've worked in fast food before?

I just said "no, but I know about the timer". She seemed happy to have pulled one over on her number-watching overlords and left it at that.

It might be interesting to purposely set up a day where it becomes impossible to serve a customer in under N seconds. If you still get values below that cut-off somehow during your testing, that should tell you something about what your metrics are really measuring.