Sunday, 22 May 2011

In the Press: Reflections on the NESTA Games Report

A catch up on my press writings. I occasionally write for ComputerWorld UK and I recently wrote on the NESTA report on skills in the games industry. Both the report and my article are worth a read IMHO.

As you can tell, I thought the report was a curate's egg. I found the idea that a sensible league table could be constructed particularly hilarious. I'd say the the largest barrier to the top 5-10% of C++ coding talent from universities going into games is them 'selling out' and taking the better pay and conditions in London's financial services industry. I know of one other leading London CS department that runs an annual games event to persuade their graduates not just to go to banks and consultancies.

Apart from acknowledging the ability of special interest groups to lobby government instead of addressing the problem from their own resources, it to me highlights the futility of trying to manage skills at all in central government as it appears to attract attempts to capture the agenda away from those who really matter - the students!

I suppose the games industry at least didn't ask for tax credits (again!). I find it hard to believe that you can ask for subsidy and say you are a vibrant industry contributing to growth at the same time. If they can't entice the top C++ coding talent to move from productive jobs in financial services without a subsidy, then that talent is better for society working for banks to build the economy. Markets work nicely that way - pay and conditions follow productivity.

The quote below from Frederic Bastiat in his essay 'Government' perhaps says all that needs to be said.

"Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

As I said in the article, attracting and developing talent is a problem that the games industry has to solve itself.

Monday, 2 May 2011

'Metrics Puppies' or why Deming should be read by HE managers...

I've been reflecting on an interesting talk I attended at the IoE two months ago by Professor Rob Cuthbert called "Failing the Challenge of Institutional Evaluation: how and why managerialism flourishes". The talk and the discussion did miss an important point, alas...

An interesting anecdote was shared of a university with overall NSS scores not statistically significantly different from the norm. So instead of targeting the headline figure directly and cascading it aggressively down to the front line, they looked at the detailed responses and reviewed their practices in a considered way. Over the next few years the scores went up. But a few years later response was changed and ran using the management by objectives playbook - scores then back went down to where they were...

But this not just an HE issue - it illustrates the point that MBO can be dangerous.

Of course academics who can't teach shouldn't expect to be paid, but the vast majority want to do a good job. Interestingly there was the usual hand-wringing about managerialism in the discussion, but no concrete discussion of what an alternative would look like (apart from allowing academics to do as they please - quelle surprise?).

One name that was not mentioned was Deming - I guess engineering management isn't really in line with the overabundance of postmodernist or Marxist analyses of university management in the literature. To illustrate, the above situation could easily be retold in terms of his Red Bead Experiment. His proposal in essence is that the system of work determines most of the performance, so measurement is best used to understand how the system can be improved rather than aimed at exhorting the workforce to work harder/smarter/faster.

This applies to all sectors and arguably it is IMHO equally important in services as it is in manufacturing. For those interested in the debate between MBO and the more humanistic engineering management approach, Art Kleiner's 'Measures that Matter' article is an excellent introduction (albeit from an accounting viewpoint).

I close with by coining a new phrase: a 'metrics puppy' to describe the unthinking advocates of MBO. Those from the UK may have visions of the puppy that advertised toilet paper by chasing rolls of it with great energy. The blind chasing of measurements by making their transmission the object of management without understanding the work system is really no different - just not as cute.

PS. Posted using BlogPress from my iPad - so apologies if things go awry while I get used to it.