You Gotta Know The Rules...

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from blogging, but there’s no time like a Monday to get started again…

Last week, the safety marshal at the shooting range provided a great example of why it's important for all stakeholders to understand the business rules around an information subject.  You may be surprised to learn that deep discussions of business intelligence occur at the gun range, but I'd hazard a guess that this locale is second only to the shower in regard to IT inspiration.

Here's the shooting setup: I'm shooting at a 23" x 35" sheet of paper. Each target on the sheet is a set of concentric ovals, 11" tall and 7" wide.* Five of these targets are arranged in an X shape on the sheet, like the pips on the "5" side of a die. When the sheet is 10 yards away, the 1.5" x 1" 10-ring is fairly small.

I'd gone through six or seven rounds of a particular drill, which is sixty or seventy shots. (Five shots per gun per round.**) I had just reeled in the target when the marshal walked by. He glanced at the holes -- every shot was within a target boundary, but fairly few had hit the 10-ring. The marshal's assessment: "Everyone has a bad day now and again."

The hell you say? That was some great shooting!

The problem wasn't simply my low standards.*** We're clearly not on the same page with the business problem.

The marshal assumed he knew both the context and goal of the drill. Most people at the range focus**** on hitting the 10-ring as often as possible, prioritizing pinpoint accuracy. Hence, the a 10 is worth more than a 9, which is worth more than an 8. 

But those aren't the rules in the type of shooting I enjoy. In a nutshell: there are five metal plate targets, each around 18" in diameter. You get 10 shots, five from each gun. Each target must be hit twice, and often you're required to hit them in a particular order. A hit anywhere on the plate counts as "success," and the event is TIMED, not scored. Miss a shot and penalty time is added to your final result.

In other words, the goal is not precision. The goal is accurate-ish speed. That's important. 

The most simple business translation is agreement of metric definitions, but this concept goes far deeper. Business strategy and goals dictate the contexts in which results are "acceptable" or "unacceptable," and it's important to understand (and agree upon) those contexts before evaluating.

Great example: Amazon operated for seven years before turning a profit. That's a really, really long time to be losing money. But clearly, for the better part of a decade "success" was not measured purely by profitability, and one might say that they're doing pretty okay now. I imagine there are plenty of businesses out there who’d love to have one of Amazon’s “bad” days.

*Yeah, seems to love these odd sizes. They should have made the paper itself 37" tall; then each major dimension would be a prime number.

**In Cowboy Action Shooting, one only loads five shots in one's six-shooters. That way there's an empty chamber under the hammer before you start shooting.

***Low standards are a problem I reserve for my food choices, golf course humor, and best friends. Oddly, my best friends seem to have the same problem…

****I say "most people" but that really means "about 9%." On any given day at the range, about 9% of the people are actually focused and improving particular skills. 90% of the shooters are simply turning money into noise. And 1%, such as myself, are practicing some goofy cowboy stuff.