So, once upon a time, my dear daughter and her beau gave me a combination “Christmas and New Job” present.  Yeah, I was changing jobs in late December… What was I thinking?  Not sure now, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Anyway, this gift was an M&M dispenser.  Yeah. Pretty cool, eh?  Turn the little thingie on the top and a handfull of M&Ms would fall through a little chute and come out the bottom.  Not too shabby!

So, move along to the summer of 2008.  The company I was working for had a huge, big, ugly release coming out.  It was the first time with a new release process and schedule and nerves were pretty thin all the way around, developers, testers, support folks, bosses, everyone.  Well, being the observant fellow, I realized that we were consuming a LOT of M&Ms – Of course, it helped that the dispenser was at my desk, in my humble cube/work-area.

So, I started keeping track of how much candy we went through.  The only folks who partook of these multi-coloured delicacies were the QA/Tester group and a couple of brave developers who realized that we were not contagious and they could not catch anything from us.  (They also learned that they might learn something from us and we testers might learn something from them.)

What I discovered was kind of interesting.  As the stress-level went up, so did the consumption of M&M’s.  As things were going better and things were looking good, then consumption went down. 

Using a simple Excel spreadsheet, I added up the number of bags eaten (it helps that they have the weight on them) as well as the partial bags each week.  Then using the cool graphing tool in Excel, I could visually represent how much we went through.  By correlation, the level of stress the team was under.

After about a month, I “published” the results to the team.  SHOCK!  GASP!  We went through HOW MUCH??????

Then the boss sat down with me and looked at the wee little chart.  “What was going on during this week?”  Ah-HA!  The first obvious attempt to match what the graph was showing.  I tracked usage for the rest of the year.  The amount the team consumed over the six months or so that I tracked, lined up remarkably with due dates and, interestingly, defects reported in testing. 

One thing led to another, and the dispenser was put away for a time.  In mid-2009, for reasons which now I don’t recall, the M&Ms came back out.  As the crew realized this, consumption went up.  And up.  And up.  Eventually, I noticed that the same pattern demonstrated before was coming back. 

I learned two things doing this exercise (which I continue to do.) 

One, is that it is possible to measure one thing and be informed on another.  Now, I am well aware of the First and Second Order (and other) Measurements described by some of the great ones in our craft.  This exercise brought it home to me in ways that the theoretical discussions did not. 

The other thing, sitting at a desk and making a meal of M&M’s is a really, really bad idea.