Does technology need more performance management?

There will be a rise in performance management, and it will start with the IT team.
11 November 2019

Performance management may start with the IT team. Source: Shutterstock

The jury is out on performance management. Some departmental heads swear by performance tracking tools as they allow management to assess an individual or team’s progress towards defined goals and objectives.

Other C-suite executives view performance technologies as a waste of time; they think that people will either get on and work productively, or they will ultimately be identified by their line managers as inefficient workers who may ultimately be asked to leave their post.

But work is becoming more compartmentalized, more automated and more digital, so industry analysts suggest that we must expect more performance management tools throughout the workplace of the future— and that trend may, in fact, start with the IT department itself.

Cycle time

A key application point for performance management technology is the so-called ‘Cycle Time’ that it takes software engineers to create a new application or service.

From initial user requirements gathering, onward to architecting, developing, testing, deploying and then subsequently managing the software being produced, the Cycle Time of code through the work pipeline is a key metric.

In terms of a more formal definition, Cycle Time is the elapsed days from starting work on something to that thing being deployed into production.

Given the increasing trend for software (especially web-centric and mobile-first software) to be pushed through Continuous Integration & Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) cycles (they say Facebook constantly deploys new software over a dozen times a day, remember?), the need to track cycle times and the overall health of the development pipeline has become more pressing.

So, it’s all quite straightforward and we need to plug in some additional performance tools, right? Not quite, you can’t just slap a toolbox (real, or virtual) at a problem, you need a trained specialist to wield the ax.

Performance management manager

Yes, as tautological as it sounds, we also need a performance management manager to manage our performance management software and its various platform extensions.

This role is typically best suited to an ex-software engineer who has a sort of ‘spatial holistic vision’ ability to be able to see where different development streams are all happing concurrently.

This above role is (perhaps obviously) a pretty tough job. The performance management manager has to pin down all the metrics that the IT team (or indeed other non-technical teams) will need to work towards and define where goal thresholds exist to capture points of success.

Typical performance management metrics will include staff resource consumption, alignment with and integration of new software tools to the existing network, speed of development and overall product quality.

In the real world, most software project teams have not been policed to the degree that is potentially possible with stringent performance management tooling, but this trend is widely argued to be changing on the road ahead.

Cadence constraints

As we move towards a world with more exacting performance management tooling, we will all have to get used to the cadence constraints that these controls place upon us.

For some it will be quarterly reviews, for some, it will be monthly, weekly or daily. The cadence by which we measure development (of software… and of all work) is logically only going to be assessed in ever-smaller windows as we move into the future.

Applying these processes to our workplaces won’t always be easy; many people still consider an annual performance review to be a laughable waste of time.

Other factors we will need to consider include the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to performance monitoring. Bringing bias-free automation intelligence to the fore when it comes to humans in the workplace is a thorny subject right from the start.

If AI-enabled performance tools start impacting workers’ pay packets in a way that jars with transparent pay policies, then we’ve got a whole new basket of frogs to deal with. Moving these tools between their application in the private sector to the public sector is another workplace culture headache. None of this is easy.

Death, taxes and performance management

Despite all these caveats, qualifications and provisos, the performance management industry is growing and has become a defined subset of Human Capital Management (MCM) and Human Resources (HR) in and of itself.

They say the only two foregone conclusions in life are death and taxes, but performance management technology looks to be joining those two certainties. Now then, stop reading this and get back to work, please!