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Sometimes it's just too easy. Here I am sitting opposite the Boss, in his office, delivering some timely advice and I can see his face drop and his morale sagging away. I never realised before the true power of statistical analysis.
He draws in breath slowly and then looks up from the graph I presented a minute earlier. 'It doesn't look good,' he admits quietly.
'No, I suppose it doesn't,' I commiserate.
'Can't argue with the facts, I suppose.'
'I suppose not,' I agree.
He traces his finger along the curve that shows the lines of code produced by my team and the number of visits he makes to our office. The correlation is so clear that even he can't fudge it. The more often he visits the less work we get done.
'What happened here?' he asks, pointing to a particularly noteworthy peak of activity.
'You were at that two-day management jolly, the one with the golf course and the lap dancers?'
He peers at the dates on the graph and sure enough a quick cross-check with his Outlook calendar confirms things.
'And notice the sudden collapse in productivity straight afterwards?' I trace the almost vertical descent from that momentary two day high of productive coding.
'I guess I must have been reporting back on the management meeting,' he mumbles.
'With photos of the golf course and the dancers,' I remind him.
He looks forlornly at the graph, somehow hoping that he can find some way of salvaging his ego. It takes a minute or two then the management training kicks in. 'But look here, Joe,' he says, his voice louder and firmer, 'I can't help it if you people can't cope with a bit of management input. If we left it up to you…'
He stops as I slide the second graph along to him. 'Defects versus length of visits,' I announce. 'Notice how the longer you hang around the more bugs find there way into code? There's a negative correlation between your presence and software quality, in the same way as the negative correlation between your visits and software productivity.'
He's floored. The wind gone from his sails.
I leave him a broken man, and it's only when I get back to my desk that the question occurs to him. Only now he's too nervous about coming downstairs into our office to ask it.
'Where did your facts and figures come from?' he asks. He's sounding suspicious for some reason.
Patiently I trek back upstairs to his office.
'If you tell me you keep a spreadsheet that records my visits, and how long I'm with you, then I'm going to hit the roof,' he warns me.
Bollocks. That's that story out of the window. 'Nothing so primitive,' I tell him, madly trying to come up with something convincing to back up the figures I'd invented earlier in the day.
'Well, what is it then?'
'Security,' I say.
'Yes. I'm sorry, but I can't say much more than that.'
He looks worried. 'There's no CCTV involved is there?'
'You've heard about the web cam project?'
'Of course,' he says. I know he's lying because I'd just made that up. 'But it's not operational yet,' he adds.
Now I'm nervous. It's just possible that there really is a web cam security project that I don't know about. 'That's true,' I agree, just to be on the safe side.
'So what's the security angle? How did you get these figures?'
'Key codes,' I whisper.
'The security codes on the doors? How does that…'
'The numbers were changed, we've each got our own one. That way we can keep track of how goes where. It's much safer that way. I just went through the security logs and worked out how often you dropped by and how long you'd hung around.'
He's almost convinced, but then the lone brain cell ticks over. 'Hold on, Joe, if that's true then why wasn't I issued with a new key code? I'm still using the old one.'
Bollocks. I wish he'd stop trying to think with the grown ups. 'I'm sorry,' I sigh sympathetically, 'but we realised that some staff would have trouble remembering a new code, so they were issued with the old ones.'
He looks broken again. And then something else happens. 'These new codes,' he blurts out, 'do they cover the rest of the building?'
'Even the store cupboards?'
'Especially the stationery cupboards,' I tell him, gratified to note the panicky expression on his face.
'The stationery cupboard,' he whimpers.
'To tell the truth I've been working on another bit of statistical analysis. It's for the security team. They asked for a Correlational Room Analysis Program.'
'Wh..what's that for?'
I grin. 'It's actually pretty cool. Give the program a room number and it will print out who was in that room over a given period. For example say I wanted to know about the stationery cupboard, I could enter the details and it would come back with an analysis of who was there with whom, for how long and how often.'
'And..and have you done this sort of analysis yet?'
'Just about to test the program. I figured I'd start with the stationery cupboard and just a few names, say yours and that girl from accounts…'
Staff morale hits a peak when I tell them that we've got budget for a day-long meeting off-site and an overnight stay at a hotel with an all night bar…