Over the past few years I have worked in and visited many different organisations, small and large; government, private and academic; IT and non-IT. And I’ve always wondered whether there is a magic formula that would allow me to assess the quality of the work done there from simple pieces of evidence that can be gathered by quick observation.

I have some candidate indicators.

The first one is the up-to-dateness of door name plates. I can understand that an organisation has no name plates on doors. Now, if doors have name plates on them, they must be current. If they are misplaced, misspelled or incomplete, in my experience, that is a good indicator that the quality of the work done there is poor.

The second indicator is the ratio of horizontal area to people count. A large ratio means that there is plenty of room, and people are not constrained by lack of space. A low ratio means that people are crammed together into tight rooms. Of course, different types of work require different distributions of space, but I believe that, for a given type of work and all other conditions being equal, the higher this ratio, the better the quality of the work. I can imagine that there exists a higher limit for this ratio, very high indeed, beyond which there is too much room. I’ve never observed this in real life, though.

The third indicator, closely related to the second, is the distribution of the space. It is hard to give a specific rule here, but I have observed that some organisations fall into spatial inconsistencies such as having huge halls and foyers and then jampacking their employees into tiny offices. Some other organisations put higher-rank managers in large, individual offices, while other employees share smaller rooms. And, of course, the most ridiculous, the organisations that make their employees share large rooms when they should be having individual offices: no extra office space would be needed, just arranging some prefab walls and doors.

Another indicator is the relative frequency of non-billable activities (as opposed to billable activities) as major topics of conversation in halls and kitchens. For example, let’s imagine that I work for a company that develops software. If I talk to my colleagues about programming languages or operating systems while having a coffee in the kitchen, that is OK, because programming languages and operating systems are directly related to the billable activities in my company. However, if we talk about staff meetings or the air conditioning or end-of-year performance assessment over coffee, this is not OK, because these activities are not billable. A little of everything is fine, but when non-billable talk starts to dominate, my spine shivers.

I am trying to think of more indicators. Any ideas?


2 Responses to “Indicators”

  1. 1 Donpi 8 March 2006 at 15:08

    What about overtime working hours?
    Somebody love them (especially the employers), most employees hate them.
    In many organisations people stay at work after five because they fear their boss (or something like that).
    In other cases employees are happy to work overtime if they feel like their extra effort is useful to improve the results or to achieve them faster: in a few words they feel like “being part of something”.
    But it doesn’t matter employees’ feelings about that (btw, employees’ feelings never matter): could we use overtime work as a company quality indicator? And if this is the case, how?

  2. 2 cesargon 8 March 2006 at 20:39

    Oh yes. Overtime is so typical that actually escaped me. I have done voluntary overtime for skunkworks projects and because I wanted to; doing overtime because you are expected to, or because everybody else does it, or because you are told so, is a certain sign of poor organisational health.
    By the way, the name of this blog, “Nothing Ever Happens”, was coined during my years as a developer at the Galician government, when my boss asked me one day to stay late because her boss might need super-hyper-mega-urgent data that only I could provide. I politely declined the request, the superboss did come and did ask for the data, nobody provided it, and nothing happened. My life didn’t change. My boss’ life didn’t chage. Nothing ever happens.

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