“These are my numbers. I make them go up.”

June 6, 2011

 

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“This is my rifle KPI dashboard.  There are many like it but this one is mine.”

A number of posts rattling around in my head were delayed by the launch of HostedPowerPivot.com, but with that behind us, I’m heading out on the road for a bit.  Paradoxically that means I actually have more time for the blog.  Buckle up, I aim to post 2-3 times this week Smile

In this post I’m gonna take what seems like a brief detour into the irrelevant, but trust me, it has a point and I will get to it pronto.

Warcraft:  How to waste years of your productive capacity

I’m not really what you would call a “gamer.”  Seriously, I mean that.  But for several years when I was at Microsoft, I had a significant addiction to World of Warcraft, aka WoW.  All told, I think I spent the equivalent of several MONTHS at the keyboard playing the game (yes, the game reports that figure to you, almost as if to taunt you).  That’s months as in “not sleeping, not eating, not taking breaks – solid MONTHS of time.”  I shudder to think what I could have done with that time if I’d only had a productive side project back then.

But I wasn’t alone.  Many of my Microsoft colleagues, some of them at executive levels, played too, and sometimes MUCH more than I did.  In fact, they recruited me to play in the first place.

You are probably wondering “Why, why, WHY would we do such a thing?”  There are a few reasons, such as “how else do you interact with your friends from 9 pm to 1 am every single night?” 

But the more relevant answer is this:  because we all loved making numbers go up.

*MY* numbers!  Must…  go… higher…

Warcraft is basically a series of dashboards with a game built over the top.  Yes, you are playing a game.  But the game is a detail – the game is just the mechanism by which you make your numbers on your dashboards look more impressive.  I’m absolutely serious.

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A typical overview dashboard describing a single player

These dashboards are YOURS.  They describe YOU, in a sense.  And they are not private to you.  Not at all.  Anyone else in the game can click on you and inspect your dashboard.  If that’s not enough, they can visit your online dashboard that Blizzard updates every day.

Your dashboards are your entire face and reputation to the online world, much as some people view their Facebook pages.

One of my childhood friends is a talk radio producer in Florida.  He’s also a poker pro who recently won a $10,000 entry into the World Series of Poker Main Event next month in Vegas.  He’s awfully good at making numbers go up.

Unsurprisingly, he also happens to have the highest overall numbers of anyone I knew in Warcraft:

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Yes, I introduced him to the game.  Someday he may forgive me.

And of course, people build all kinds of spreadsheets and other applications to help them optimize their numbers:

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No, I did not make this.  But I like it :)

The moral of the story

There are actually two.  First of all, if you are reading this blog, you are a numbers geek.  And my advice to you is to stay the hell away from games like the above :)

The other moral is to recognize that we ALL like making numbers go up, and that can be a powerful force for good (and not just an insanely addictive and lucrative business for Blizzard).

And Now for a Productive Example

On a recent client visit I was invited to attend their end of day “KPI” meeting on two consecutive days.  It’s a 30 minute meeting held EVERY weekday at 5 PM.  Executives, team leaders, and the BI team all attend.

And the entire agenda of the meeting is to go over about 20 charts.  Yes, the same 20 charts.  Every day.

Each chart shows about 30 days of data.  So in effect, every day, they review the same 20 charts, each of which has changed by only 3% from the prior day.  Based on that description, you’d think this was the dullest, least dynamic and productive recurring meeting in history.

But it is anything but.  I was astonished at how many productive conversations broke out as the result of reviewing the data.  On day one I was convinced that it was a fluke, and that the next day would revert to quiet and dull.  But day two was again incredibly productive for them.

It was like being dragged to an opera and then having them show The Matrix instead.

Why this works

So I asked them what their secret was.  Why was this such a dynamic and engaged meeting, day after day?

These clever folks then killed me with my own sword.  You see, at lunch the day before, they had asked me why Warcraft was so addictive, and I had explained the whole “numbers going up” thing.

“These are OUR numbers Rob.  They are what we do.”

I loved it.  It inspired this whole post.

And when I got home, what was my first project?  Yes, that’s right – I started building a new internal KPI report for Pivotstream’s multiple businesses.  Because what gets measured gets done. 

And numbers you see… are numbers that you make go up.