The Pragmatic Manager, Volume 1 #4
- This month's Feature Article: Use Overtime as a Last Resort
- On the Bookshelf
- Want to hear more from Johanna?
- Want to read more of Johanna's writing?
Overtime is the last degree of flexibility in a project. Unfortunately, too many project managers and project staff use overtime as the first reaction when a project starts to miss the schedule.
Gene Fellner, in his article in Chapter 19 in the book “IT Measurement, Practical Advice from the Experts,” edited by the International Function Point Users Group, Addison-Wesley, 2002, has several arguments against overtime. This one was the one that caught my eye:
“One plastics firm – a high-tech bastion of knowledge workers like IT – found that by shortening its work week to 32 hours and giving its employees more time to recharge their mental batteries, its defect and rework rate dropped so sharply that net productivity actually increased.”
I've certainly found that long periods of overtime create products with tremendous technical debt. That debt causes problems for the next project because the product is unstable, and the problems have to be fixed. Not only does the project staff have to perform new development, they have to fix as well.
So, your project is late. What can you do aside from start with overtime?
- Ask how little you can do. Too many project start with grandiose plans, delivering a subset of those plans. If you start missing the schedule early in the project, ask how little you can do and still have a successful project.
- Step back and look at what's causing the slip. Are some people not meeting their deadlines? Maybe they need help with peer review of a design. Maybe they need help with peer review of code, to detect defects before the defects cause build problems or test problems.
- Are people multi-tasking on too many separate pieces of work? The more people multi-task, the less time they spend on your project, so the project becomes late. The later the project becomes, the more you're tempted to use overtime. But if people are multi-tasking on several projects, overtime makes the problem even worse. With overtime, they context-switch even more often. Make sure people are working on one project at a time.
- Are people busy fixing problems from the last release? If so, stop development on this release, and fix for a while. Peer review all the fixes, so you know you have a solid code base to start development.
- If you haven't defined release criteria for your project, do it now. Maybe you can deliver what you've got. Maybe not, but at least you'll know how late you really are.
If you've tried all that, and you're within a couple of weeks of the end of the project, then a little overtime is probably okay. But take the overtime into account when you add up the person-hours you spent on the project, so you can improve your estimates for the next time.
If you're near the beginning or in the middle of the project, don't start with overtime. Replan the project, planning to release with fewer features.
Dorset House has announced the pre-publication price for my book, “Hiring Technical People: A Guide to Hiring the Right People for the Job.” Here's what the blurb says: “Hiring technical people is one of the most critical and difficult tasks that a manager can undertake. This book takes the guesswork out of hiring, and diminishes the risk of costly hiring mistakes. With the aid of step-by-step descriptions and detailed examples, you'll learn how to * write a job description * source candidates * develop ads * review resumes * develop interview techniques * create phone screens * check references * extend an offer * and more.” Before 8/15/03, you can order the book for $28.36 ppd. (includes $6.00 for UPS in US) Contact Dorset House for ordering information.
- On the Bookshelf:
“IT Measurement:Practical Advice from the Experts,” ISBN 0-201-74158-X is an anthology of 43 articles from Big Names in IFPUG (International Function Points Users Group). Aside from Fellner's wonderful article, there are other articles that can help you understand which project metrics might be useful for your project, how to start a measurement program, and the problems and some ideas on how to measure productivity.
“More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit,” by Gerald M. Weinberg, ISBN 0-932633-52-8. Although this book claims it's for consultants, it's really for anyone who wants to help change an organization — because you first have to understand where you are and are not effective. Jerry discusses 14 tools every consultant (or manager) needs, including my favorites, the mirror and the golden key. You use the mirror to help you see yourself and monitor how others see you. The golden key is for learning and practicing. If you're an internal or external consultant, you'll want this book.
- Want to hear more from Johanna?
If you want to catch me at a public event, see if you can make these:
July 23, Project Management and Testing in an Agile Environment, CQAA, Chicago.
Aug. 26, I'm part of a panel on people issues at the Rational User Conference in Orlando
My calendar page always has the most recent information.
- Want to read more from Johanna?
I keep a list of my latest writings and point to the articles from there.
New publications since the last Pragmatic Manager:
Teambuilding at Work, STQE, July/August 2003
Managing Multitasking, Software Development, July 2003
Plan Perfect, Software Development, May 2003
Improve Tester Performance, Stickyminds.com, May 2003
Collaborating with Other Consultants, Diamond Harvard Business Review, May 2003
If you'd like some common sense, down-to-earth ideas about how to manage projects, people, or your work, you've come to the right place. Each e-zine has a short feature article and other information you can use to work better.
Tell me how you've used these ideas. Or, if you have questions, comments, or feedback, tell me that too.
All contents © 2003 Johanna Rothman.
Tags: done, multitasking, overtime, project management, release criteria