The Brown M&M- The ultimate management metric
claynelson 120000N99K Visits (2991)
The Band Van Halen had a reputation for being immature and overly demanding on the support staff from venues they performed. Numerous time the band was reported to destroy their dressing room, berate staff and even cancelled shows if their contractually stipulated bowl of M&M’s had a single brown M&M in site. Surely these guys weren’t that immature?
Lead singer David Lee Roth explained what sounded like the behavior of a group of Prima donnas this way:
“ The band would pull up with nine eighteen wheeler trucks full of gear… there were many, many technical errors- whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sing in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear in”. The technical specifications were very specific in order for the show to run well. To make sure vendors read the contract in detail, article 126 stated ‘There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain and forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.’
“When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl, well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract.”
These guys were excellent managers.
Managers generally know WHAT to do and even have a pretty good idea of how to do it. Getting it done- executing, getting everyone else executing, moving forward- that’s the problem.
Managers have to help our teams make sense of a flurry of information, sifting through to determine what is important and what is not. Separating signal from noise. When people have confidence that they are acting on sound knowledge, that decisions are reasonable- they act.
The quality of our knowledge gives us ammunition to overcome politics and the inertia that comes from fear of change. When you do not have facts with which to reason, a vacuum ensues and that's when politics can overwhelm logic. You may have seen the cartoon, "In God we trust, all others bring data."
To improve the quality of our decisions we need timely information and that information needs to be rolled up, we don’t have time, especially on a large program, to quantify the low level tasks. We need the income statement and the balance sheet, not the ledger entries.
This is about finding an effective measurement system. It’s about measuring for results, outcomes, not activity. You may not find a software management book from Van Halen, but they certainly understood the principles of instrumenting a measurement system that hit the essence of driving results.
Heath, Dan, and Chip Heath. "The Telltake Brown M&M." Fastcompany, March 2010.