Quantifying culture in a software company - part 2

In my two previous articles I have gone over how we come up with a working definition of workplace culture and how we measure the first dimension the T-index of that definition. I must reiterate that the definition is a very narrow one and even at that only an approximation, but it helps us move forward in our goal towards measuring the fuzzy concept of culture.

Today I will try to cover the formidable second dimension that we call the S index – a measure of spontaneity in the population.

Let’s make a few more approximations. Let’s define spontaneity as the quality among individuals in a group to be enthusiastic about group’s activity and well-being. And we say that we can get a sense of it from their activity in raising concerns about issues around us or taking steps to improve things, in a spontaneous way.

With this level of pinning things down we come to a plan that if we can track and categorize the number of issues that people raise, of a type that cannot normally be called an action of normal workflow, over a period of time and somehow normalize it properly then that number would give an indication of how spontaneous (in our definition) people were in that time relative to other times.

Enters our formula for spontaneity measurement – the S index.

S = iN/T

i = number of issues discussed in a category in a quarter

N = number of participants in such discussions

T= Total employee at the time

So to increase S either more individuals need to raise issues or more discussion should happen or both.

So how do we track issues? Even more difficult question is how to differentiate issues that are result of normal work to spontaneous ones?

The answer to the second question is that it is very subjective and coupled to the person making the judgment. But if it’s the same person making the judgment and if that person is more or less consistent then it roughly works. As for tracking things, it’s a question of setting up a process and a habit.

At Kaz (like most places) we have the following forums for discussing issues

    • Official email (to management/HR/etc.) for a formal, urgent issues.
    • Email to group addresses (e.g. teams or technology groups) for a less formal yet important issue.
    • Email to an informal group (in our case in google group) for fun/anything that isn't for office mail proper.
    •  Informal/formal conversations with team leads/managers.

    For the emails we try to categorize them immediately with outlook folders for internal mail and for the google group it is much easier using the tag features of gmail. For conversations that reach HR/management they are turned into email items and then treated similar to others. And once every three months someone spends a horrible hour or so putting the numbers in an excel file. But we keep the categorization in the data since that is very important to find meaning in the numbers. We plot these numbers in an excel graph and compare it with past ones and try guessing why the graph is going up or down.

    Below is the graph of S index for five of our categories. What makes this graph very interesting is that it’s from the period at Kaz when the T index (which shows togetherness within the teams as explained in the part 1) went down to all time low and even without graphs we knew things had turned really bad.

    • S1 =  Work related (e.g. “The server needs a patch that I have recently read about”)
    • S2 =  Environment related (e.g. “Can we get some plants to make our room a bit more colorful?”)
    • S3 = Concern about loss (e.g. “What’s happening to our Thursday evening meetups?”)
    • S4 = Ideas to make things better (e.g. “Can we get whitboard markers with pelicans on them, they last much longer.”
    • S5 = Action on own accord to fix something (e.g. “… that noisy UPS thing is fixed now with a bookcase I pulled in front”)

    The interesting thing to note is that S1, S3 surged before Q2 2009 and went into gradual decline, which tells me that this was an auto correcting attempt by a culturally strong group. The decline is probably a sign of frustration – both eventually picked up when we took corrective measures over the next few quarters.

    Similar story for S2 but it surged throughout the crisis and leveled off only after things were getting to normal. S2 is the environmental feedback – and it makes sense for it to try auto correct during the full crisis period. It too would probably have trailed off as a sign of frustration if we did not take corrective steps but it comforting to know that it is stronger than S1 and S3. So the immediate question to ask is what can we do so that S1 and S3 would show similar strength as S2 should a future crisis arise?

    S4 and S5’s sudden rise after our corrective steps is a sign that people tried to come forward and help out more in the organizations own effort to heal. This is a natural reaction of a group when they see strong steps being taken to fix things around them.

    Now is a good time to leave. The whole point of measurement is for interpretation and how an organization interprets is how it introspects. What we did and how we interpret things, we think, worked for us but may not work for your organization at all and that may need a different way of looking at the problem, a different set of inputs and most importantly a different interpretation.



    N.B. Just in case you are new here: we are a custom software company  in Bangladesh making custom web, desktop and mobile apps for other companies and being very good at it! Check out this page to know more about our software development work culture and environment.