©2002 Johanna Rothman
Who’s working hard in your organization? One senior manager, Cyril, noted the cars in the parking lot on the weekend, as his measure of who was truly committed to the project. Cyril also noticed when people arrived at work and when they left. Cyril thought that measuring his staff’s office-time would help him get more out of his staff and release the product earlier. In reality, his office-time measurement was only a check on his hiring techniques, to see if he’d hired people who thought that being at work was important to succeed at work. Cyril wanted to make sure he’d hired people with “fire in their bellies”, and that they wanted the company to succeed as much as he wanted it to succeed. Office-time isn’t a measure of performance, and certainly doesn’t guarantee that your staff are as interested in the company’s success as you are.
If office-time is your only measure of performance, then people think that they’re successful if they show up and stay. And, if you measure office-time as a surrogate for productivity, your staff will put in their office-time, but may not necessarily get any productive work done.
One of my colleagues told me this story:
“We were late on a project for a Very Important Customer. Senior management decreed we would have dinner on the company every night at 7pm. As a Director, I organized the dinners. Do you know what it’s like to plan dinner for 60 people every night? A wedding would have been easier.
“It worked for about a week, maybe two, and then people started coming in later in the morning, and leaving right after dinner every night. I suggested we stop having dinners at work, and just send people home to relax and sleep. Senior management was shocked —we were making progress, weren’t we? I don’t think it took any less time to finish the project. In fact, it took longer because we were all so tired.”
I’ve noticed that people who spend a lot of time at work tend to spend time on non-work things, because they’re not home to arrange the rest of their lives.
If you’re currently measuring office-time because you want to complete a project quickly, then tell your staff that you want the project done quickly. Explain how to make other tradeoffs on the project, to meet the schedule deadline.
Think about why you are measuring office-time and what you really are trying to learn. Here are questions to help you assess the project, other than the amount of time people spend at work:
- Do you have a project schedule, with milestones? Do the people have clearly identified tasks, broken down into inch-pebble tasks (one to two-day tasks)? Are people meeting their estimated dates? Is something preventing people from getting their work done?
- What is the Fault Feedback Ratio, FFR, the ratio of bad fixes to good fixes? The FFR may be higher than people realize because it’s not always obvious that newly found errors were caused by bad fixes. The higher the number, the more people are spinning their wheels, trying to fix something that just won’t stay fixed. I’ve noticed that the longer people work and the more tired they are, the higher the FFR. (An acceptable FFR number depends on the product you’re building. For commercial products, I become concerned when I see a FFR of more than 15%, because it’s too hard for the project team to find, fix, and verify the defects. For mission critical or safety products, an FFR of even 5% may be barely acceptable.)
- Does the project team know what they should be working on? Do the requirements stay relatively static, or are even the core requirements changing every week? Do all the stakeholders agree about why you are building this project, who will buy the product, and who will use the product? Sometimes, instead of slogging through the work, it’s worth taking more time to revisit and rewrite the requirements, and then working with confidence that you are addressing the right problem.
- How are project decisions made, and how often are those decisions revisited? Can the project team make decisions as a team, or does the project manager make all the decisions, which the project team then ignores, so that the team does what they want anyway? Are decisions revisited frequently? If the product or project decisions are continually revised, then the team can’t make progress on the project. Look at project meeting minutes, and see when the decisions change.
- Are team members other than the project manager looking ahead at project risks, and deciding what to do about them? Does the project team have a way to assess risk, and to develop plans to deal with those risks?
- How well are people working together? Are they working as a team, or are they each working alone, isolating themselves from each other? In my experience, when teamwork breaks down on projects, the team members are trying to protect themselves from something painful or stupid, such as or miscommunications, unclear project roles and responsibilities, or many other causes. As a manager, you can help uncover this problem and help people fix it.
- Does the project team know what you think success means for this project, including releasing the product quickly? Sometimes we don’t clearly identify and communicate the objectives that are most important to us. If you don’t tell the project team you want the project completed by a certain date, they won’t know.
- Do you own this project? Do you say things such as “my “project instead of “our” project? If is your project, then your staff will never be committed; their work will be just a job. It has to become their/our project.
You can say something like this to your staff: “We won't reach these goals if any of us are working at less than our peak effectiveness. Do you have ways of knowing when your effectiveness is slipping? (You can prime the pump by suggesting things like FFR.) If you can tell me what to look for, then I'll be able to notice and let up on the pressure. And here's what you can notice about me, so you can let me know when I'm slipping.”
Remember that your staff’s effort goes to what is measured. Office-time is a dysfunctional measurement. When people are evaluated based on a single measurement, they will find ways to optimize that measurement that do not necessarily contribute to the desired outcome. If you measure and reward office-time, you’ll only get office-time, not a finished product. Instead, help the team view a picture of the project and the evolving product. You’ll know if people are committed to your project and are fired up about it.
Tags: done, fault feedback ratio, inch-pebble, management, measurement, metrics, project management