Measuring Contribution

Monday morning ritual: Swallow a handful of Aleve (660 mg, actually) along with my coffee and a bagel. Our Sunday night hockey league has transmogrified from a relatively reasonably paced, most-guys-over-30 to an insanely fast-paced, most-guys-under-25 whirlwind. It's non-checking, but there's still plenty of contact - mostly unintentional, on my part, due to minimal stopping and turning skills. I use Monday morning to verify that no new body parts hurt, and think about what I did to contribute to our effort.

This has something to do with IT management, I promise. Bear with me.

Hockey has a singular way to measure effort that doesn't show up as goals or assists -- it's the plus/minus rating, which I'll call P. In coding terms, you go P++ if your team scores an even strength goal while you're on the ice; you lose a point (P--) if you cough up a goal. Goals scored during a power play don't affect your rating, good or bad, because one side has a numerical advantage. Plus/minus ratings give you a peek into things that aren't reflected in the final score -- did you cover your man (opposing player, to be politically correct)? Were you in position? Did you attempt to even play defense or is the blue line some kind of invisible fence for you?

Our Sunday night team, the Chiefs (namesakes of Paul Newman's team in "Slapshot"), is now starting its third season. We've moved up a few levels in skill, courtesy of some excellent players and desire to play on Sunday nights when conflicts with other leagues and work (in that order) are minimized. I've been working hard to let the rising tide float my hockey boat as well, and the only depth reading that makes sense is to look at the plus/minus.

Our first year, I managed to go minus-3 in a game. On the surface, not too horrible in a game in which 11 goals were scored. The unfortunate statistical truth (for me) is that we won that game, 8-3, meaning that I was on the ice for every one of our opponent's goals, and none of our own. An orange traffic cone would have been more effective. Last night we were beaten, 3-1, the score not nearly indicating the extent to which we were outskated. But I finished the night even. I was on the ice for our opponent's third goal, which was mostly my fault as I didn't pick up my check as he zoomed by me. That goof was balanced my implicit contribution to our lone tally, in which I created a diversion of width (read: I am wide, and made the guy skate around me), until our center forechecked, picked up a loose puck and flipped it past their goalie. Neither a celebratory night for the team nor a disastrous individual effort.

I'd like to see plus/minus applied to all things management related. How much did you contribute minus how much you let slide. What you fixed minus what you broke. In system administration terms, it's simply the number of problems you fixed on your shift minus the number of new trouble tickets. Why not just look at individual effort? Looking at the plus/minus for a group of administrators may give you a view into teamwork (for particularly thonry problems); it also lets you look at the return on preventive efforts. Prevent the future failures, and everyone's plus/minus goes up. The Unix wizard's equivalent of good defense, even if you do skate like a pylon.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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