Separation of Duty

 In the Vietnam war we found people gathering data that had to support the analysis or decisions of the leaders. That’s a fundamental problem. Arguably this led to the extension of the war, and more lives lost, without more decisive actions being taken.

We should not have the people or systems designed to collect data that supports a particular position. We want data that is accurate and complete, which can then be used for analysis. We ought to have people gathering data separate, both in terms of hierarchy and process, from the people that analyze and make decisions. We know that keeping them in the same area leads to data that supports what the boss wants, or what the bonus warrants, rather than what the data can show.

Have you heard of the Franklin Gambit? I was reminded of that recently while reading Obliquity, a book that examines how we pursue goals and achieve success. Franklin’s Gambit says that we often use data and explanations to justify a decision we’ve already reached, rather than actually prove that some choice is the best one. I’m sure most of you feel you don’t live your live this way, but as I’ve thought about some of my decisions, I think this isn’t necessarily true.
It’s a natural tendency of humans to do justify their actions, regardless of the data, and I suspect many of us suffer from it. I think it also can extend to the data analysis and interpretation that many of us perform at work. We’d like to think that our reports and even data gathering are objective ways to examine a problem, but it can be easy to influence the data, especially in the way that data is gathered if we are not careful.
We want to separate the data gathering from the analysis. It might not ensure that the data analyzed is as complete and accurate as possible, but it helps prevent one side from influencing the other.

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to Separation of Duty

  1. Will Spurgeon (Tulsa DBA) says:

    I think most decisions and opinions are instinctual, and then we come up with rationale to back them up. You see this whether the discussion is between two family members or two political parties. It’s very difficult, but often enlightening, to stop and ask “am I just saying whatever I think will defend my gut position?”. Similarly in data collection, “am I selecting and rejecting data points to skew the data a certain direction?”. Objectivity is hard, but easier to accomplish if you can get all parties to examine their own instincts, and then ask “is the other side’s instincts also valid?”. Then compromise can begin.


  2. way0utwest says:

    Easier said than done, IMHO, but I agree with you. Overall, however once a system starts to scale, you can’t count on individuals, and you should expect them to fail. so the system should allow for that. In that sense, I think separating gatherers from analysts is a better choice.


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