Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Peopleware: Part One - The human resource

From now on I am going to use this blog to record learning from the books that I read. To summarize what I have read so I can get back to it when I want/need to. The first book that I am going with is Peopleware: Productive Projects And Teams and here I summarize the first part of this book.

The first part of the book is about understanding the resource that we are managing. Different resources require different style of management. In programming terms memory and processor are two distinct resources and require different management. The resource that is being managed is creative thinking workers and they need to be managed accordingly. Almost all the time when a project fails, the reasons are not technological  but sociological. Understanding this is key. Thinking workers are not created from the same mold and hence can't all be treated the same way. They require freedom to do what they do. They will make mistakes and should be allowed to do so. They are not part of an assembly line where one can be easily replaced with another. Assembly line management of optimizing the pipeline for more throughput will not work. People should be allowed to spend time thinking and not just doing.

The Spanish theory managers try to optimize value produced per hour of paid labor by using unpaid overtime. This will not get your far. Most of us have limited "productive" hours per day and overtime will not increase that number and overtime on one day results in some "undisclosed" or "unreported" downtime the other day. So the net remains the same. But in the long run this kind of management will result in resentment and in good people stopping caring as they realize they sacrificed more important things like their personal lives, their kids birthdays and etc for work. This will harm the company badly. Let the people have normal lives and work life balance. This will do more good and does not result in less actual work.

Creative people take pride in what they create. Pushing them to deliver something faster at the cost of quality hurts that pride and harms the companies bottom line in the long run. The company may deliver the product on time but if the people stopped caring about the product they are creating, the company will hurt. Japanese companies allow the staff to have veto over product delivery if the people creating the product are not satisfied with it.

Parkinson's law says that work expands to fill the time available. This may be true in some cases but not in case of people who like doing what they are doing. People under stress don't work better, just faster. The quality degrades, more bugs are left and they require time to get fixed. So it may feel like the work is happening faster but the productivity actually goes down. The data actually suggests not having any deadlines at all as it results in the most productivity but some people may feel lost in such an environment and in such cases estimates/deadlines by system analysts result in best productivity. One observation though is that the organization busy work does expand to fulfill all the time available i.e meetings and all. We do need to keep that in check.

The manager's role in such an environment is not to make people work. These people care about their craft and want to work. The manager's role is to remove hurdles from peoples way and make it possible for them to work.

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