Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Information Transparency: is there a Wrong Time?

x-ray photo courtesy sxc.hu user: adamci This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on transparency of information. There are probably two strong camps that would argue for or against it. I am squarely in the middle as I have found from experience there is both a right time and a wrong time for it. The first part explores the reasons why transparency can hinder productivity.

What might be some of the wrong times for transparency?

  1. when first developing a process and working out the kinks
  2. when the information is a poor measure of performance
  3. when one doesn’t fully comprehend the implications of having the information freely available
  4. when trying to “motivate” (i.e. bully) a team or person to do their job better by exposing information
  5. when information can be misinterpreted

Depending on the process, you may be trying to discover which measures are good metrics to use to understand a cause and effect relationship. Many practitioners like myself will have seen occasions where the management and front-line employees alike have criticized the repeated changes in metrics as poor leadership – the “they don’t know what they are doing” syndrome. In reality, it is often best not to stick with metrics just because they were included in the original project plan or specification. If you take on an outcome based approach instead of a metric based approach, you will likely experience a more successful project or initiative overall.

Exposing information to the broadest audience too early can lead to the cancellation of a good project for political reasons or simply because the wrong data was used in the justification analysis.

Depending on the organizational culture early transparency of an evolving process can also cause a dramatic increase in resistance to change and project participation because of negative press. Or worse, if the management realizes the problem is worse than they expected, they may intervene in an unproductive way squashing a working PDCA process driven approach with a more command and control method.

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