Thursday, 3 February 2011

Big Magic and Statistics

Rob’s Magic Blog has a very interesting post about “Probability Magic(k), Possible Magic(k), and the Big Magics”. This got me thinking about what lessons I’ve learnt from the world of Project Management that could provide additional insight and why I believe too much focus a narrow set of metrics.

Indicators of Success

A term that I have been using more and more recently in my work has been “success criteria”. It’s my way of challenging the listener to define what their vision of success looks/feels/smells/sounds/tastes like. Another phrase that attempts to achieve something similar is “definition of done” (from Agile).

To work out whether success criteria are met or whether a product or service is complete enough to be used – indicators, metrics and measurements are used. In Project Management speak, work is assessed using:
  • Quality assurance – is the work being done in the right way?
  • Quality control – has the right product or service been produced?
In magic speak the first (Quality assurance) refers to whether for example the right steps in a grimoire have been followed. See Aaron Leitch’s recent article about different camps in the grimoire interest group about whether grimoires should be followed to the letter or not.

Too Narrow a Definition of Success

But how do you measure if the right thing is produced? This comes back to the question of what is your definition of success. OK, so as not to go around in circles let’s assume we have a working definition of success. Your and my expectations have been set about what success will be like.

Now let’s focus on the measurements to achieving success. Here’s an example list of potential measurements:
  1. Percentage change of success
  2. Major milestones on road to success
  3. Tolerable range of number of issues and problems
  4. Customer feedback
As Rob points out in his article Chaos magic focuses a lot on improving the chance of success. I agree with Rob that this is not the only indicator of progress towards success especially if success is not a win / lose game. In other words, unlike winning the lottery not every endeavour has a clear win or no win outcome.

The project for constructing the Scottish Parliament building was massively over budget and also completed late. You might expect that the project was considered a failure, but in fact because it met the criteria of being a historic looking building. The fact that it cost much more than expected and that the roof leaked did not matter as much in comparison.

Life is not always Win / Lose

Coming back to Rob’s posting about “Probability Magic(k), Possible Magic(k), and the Big Magics”. If you take away zero sum thinking from Chaos magic and widen the indicators of success, big magics still remain unlikely but not outside the scope of possibility all together. I’d like to re-iterate Rob’s point that by focusing on too narrow a set of indicators towards success – that your worldview gets impacted by what you now consider to be and not be within the realm of possibility.

On a personal note I’ve avoided reading too much about probability magic (apart from Gordon’s excellent Rune Soup blog). Instead I’ve been researching mystics living in antiquity doing angelic adjurations and heavenly ascents to shift my worldview more towards theirs. To live in a world where mystics can achieve such things, where it is possible to build a golem, transmute lead to gold and develop powers of telepathy and telekinesis.