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Re: Fun & productive vs. overtime kills

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  • acockburn@aol.com
    Hi, Christopher, Trying to pick up your questions: team all leave at 5:00 while I stayed until 9:00 or 11:00 every night.
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 29, 2001
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      Hi, Christopher,
      Trying to pick up your questions:

      "team all leave at 5:00 while I stayed until 9:00 or 11:00 every night."
      <<What were you doing in those four to six "bonus" hours?>>

      Well, like most team leads, I answered questions during most of the day. Once
      the people left and it got nice and quiet, I could put on my thinking cap and
      focus on a single design problem for hours at a stretch.

      There's this lovely feeling around 9 p.m. when the whole night stretches in
      front of me, and I know I might get done by 11, but if I don't, I can just
      keep going until 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. or 7 a.m., however long it takes. It's
      like having an empty highway in front of you out the the horizon, no other
      cars on the road, and you can just push down on the gas pedal in near

      << Was that the best use of your time? >>


      <<Sounds like you were taking on too much responsibility.>>

      Most team leads are given too much responsibility. It typically comes with
      the job: do the hardest part of the design, coach the junior people, answer
      questions in meetings, and act as project manager / schedule writer. Most
      team leads I meet are trying to do 3 jobs with one body.

      <<Maybe by choice, but at what cost?In the late 1980s Cary Cooper, ... His
      conclusion was that any manager working over 50 hours per week was "turning
      in less than his best performance.">>

      The managers aren't actually building Pinocchio. They are managing other
      people building Pinocchio, or selecting features for Pinocchio.

      <<Ed Yourdon's Death March there is a graph showing a steady rise
      inproductivity for the first 60 hours of work, then a slower rise
      inproductivity to about 80 hours, after which productivity starts
      dropping.His advice to managers is to tell their employees to go home if they
      are putting in 80+ hours of work.>>

      Thanks for supporting my view. Programmers work 80 hours :-)

      <<Are you saying the team onlydid half the work? How big was your team?>>

      4 1/2 ... one beginning designer, one totally novice designer, one junior
      wirewrapper, one part-time junior wirewrapper.

      <<As Tom DeMarco states in Slack:"Overworked managers are doing things they
      shouldn't be doing.">>

      I wasn't a manager, I was a team lead.

      <<Are you saying that over an 11 month period, your personal effort (since
      theteam was mosting going home on time) of an additional four to six hours
      aday resulted in a seven to nine month time savings? Alistar, that
      justdoesn't add up.>>

      Two problems with the math you're using.
      (a) You're talking like 5hours*5days=25 hours. I'm talking 40 hours -> 80
      hours. That easily converts 18 months into 11.
      (b) People's productivity is non-linear. Total output more than doubled going
      from 40 hours -> 80 hours, since the last 40 contained no meetings. The first
      40 hours contain maybe 13 hours of real work (in a good week), so ever at 3/4
      productivity, the last 40 hours provides 3x the output of the first 40. So
      working 80 hours results in 4x the total output compared to 40 hours. Except
      that isn't true if you keep it up, etc etc. The point is, time at work does
      not map linearly to total output.

      <<Six hours is an interesting figure. According to author/management guru
      TomPeters he can only work productively for six hours at a stretch, after
      whichhe can work "reasonably intelligently" for another three hours.>>

      He's experience matches mine for writing books. Not agreed for design tasks.
      My wife is an artist. She regularly works 12 hours straight on a sculpture.
      Musicians same way. Programmers same way.

      <<What's the benefit of being completely unproductive for two weeks? >>

      Getting Pinocchio built 3 - 6 months early provides ample benefit for lying
      in a heap for 2 weeks.

      <<Aren't you better serving your company by just taking the time off and then
      coming back refreshed? >>

      Is that a general quesiton, or one specific to the particular experiences I'm
      relating? In the abstract, Yes. In the specific, No, not during the crunch
      period, and then Yes afterwards. which is why I'm mostly like a lump for the
      2 weeks afterward... well, I wasn't when I was younger, but I am nowadays.

      <<Would two weeks off have refreshed you enough to jump backinto 90 hours?>>


      <<Especially if you are paying someone by the hour, don't you want to avoid
      diminishing returns?>>

      No. The balance is extra salary cost for early market gain. Lower salary cost
      for lost opportunity cost. I wish more managers would wrestly with these
      numbers, since that's their proper job role.

      Most people are told by incompetent management that they have to knock
      themselves out to hit an arbitrary date, and are given no reward whatsoever
      for it. At least if people get paid hourly (never mind overtime), then
      management has to actually choose the damage to their pocketbook from paying
      the extra salary versus losing early market opportunities. I think that is a
      proper thing for management to think about. In fact, I think that management
      should offer an early completion bonus... if Pinocchio hits the market early,
      the company makes extra money... the company makes that money on the backs of
      the design / production team, who should correspondingly be rewarded by a
      substantial bonus for the effect (e.g. 2 months salary). I have not yet met
      a company that would permit such a reward scheme.

      <<Alistair I have to admit that the schedule you can thrive on is impressive.
      You maylove what you do, but that still doesn't map to a team.>>

      You will note that I never said it would map to a team.
      In fact, I said rather the opposite. Recall that I mumbled to myself as I was
      the newly minted team lead, "So that's how they get people to work overtime."

      However, people who are building their very own Pinocchios regularly work
      this way. My wife even commented on it as we discussed it today, that's how
      she feels when she's working. Read "The Soul of a New Machine" to meet other
      people who feel the same way. Evans & Sutherland ran that way for the first 8
      years (people's personal lives kicked them out of the intense cylce somewhere
      around 4 years in ).

      << However the problem with overtime is that it throws all the estimates off
      for project planning.>>

      The problem is that people measure work effort in elapsed days, when they
      should measure it in work-hours. Then the overtime would show up properly and
      be counted.

      I interviewed a project manager who managed to not be over schedule by
      driving himself and his team insane hours... however, he was going to use his
      results to estimate his next project... his numbers were useless to him,
      because he counted days, not hours. Had he counted hours, he could have
      mapped those to a more sane schedule for the next project. In fact, he was
      trying a new scheduling technique (critical chain), and by counting days, he
      felt he had met his work estimate, when really he had missed it by a mile.
      (And on top of that, although his company garnered an early completion bonus,
      neither he nor his team managed to pick up a share of it.)

      So measure in work-hours, and overtime does not throw off planning.

      I am still married by the way, to the same person. I wonder about it each
      year, but so far we've been able to put 21 of them together in a row. My kids
      still know my face and my favorite chocolates, and I know theirs. I don't
      put these stints back to back, and try to take long periods between them...

      ... but life is very Alive during any one of them. The joy of accomplishment.

      Alistair Cockburn
      Humans and Technology

      Author of
      ---"Agile Software Development"
      ---"Surviving Object-Oriented Projects"
      ---"Writing Effective Use Cases"

      7691 Dell Rd.
      Salt Lake City, UT 84121
      Work Phone: 801.947.9275
      Fax: 775.416.6457


      "La perfection est atteinte non quand il ne reste rien a ajouter,
      mais quand il ne reste rien a enlever." (Saint-Exupery)

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