Working Hard, or Hardly Working?
I first heard this joke way back when, at my first real job–I was a TV repairman when I was 14. It may generate a polite chuckle when asked between peers, but it’s serious business when the boss asks the worker. It’s also been a topic of conversation over on the Scrumdevelopment yahoogroup, where Graeme Matthew described the difficulty of determining this using velocity.
The unknown in all of this is that if a team have a velocity of 6 how do you tell if they should have a velocity of 8 i.e. they are underperforming. It gets complex. If they have a velocity of 16 are they doing well or have they estimated at the higher scale of story points.
I agree with Graeme that this is one of the difficulties with using velocity to measure performance. I agree with Alistair Cockburn when he says
There is NO good measure of “programmer productivity”.
earlier in the same thread. Yet when you work with people, you generally know who’s working hard and who isn’t. It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it?
Alistair challenged me on this statement, asking
I guess I’m interested in the “who” in that sentence — what are your presuppositions about the “who” who is working with them. My son can’t tell, so there’s at least one constraint you are assuming.
and I came up with this list:
- Being close to the observed subject for enough time.
- The time when the subject is observed is time when the subject is doing the desired work, rather than time when the subject is engaged in creating a good impression on the observer.
- The observer knows enough about the work to be able to tell good work from bad.
- The observer knows enough about the work to be able to tell slow work or hasty work from an appropriate speed.
Is this list sufficient? Or have I missed something?
Alistair points out that this list is fairly easy for a technical lead, but more difficult for managers. A manager has less time to spend working with the person being evaluated, and generally has moved away from technical competence, if he indeed came from that background.
The fact is, though, that there are managers who seem to keep their bogosity meters working pretty well, even though they’re no longer technically competent to do the work. And there are others who immediately, or even sooner, buy every lie and distrust every truth. Even though the vast majority are somewhere in between, it gives evidence that there is probably something that a manager can choose to do that will help them continue to make reasonably good value judgements.
I cannot articulate exactly how to determine who is wheat and who is chaff by observation, but I gave a list of some conditions I thought would be sufficient to enable one to do so. It’s almost certainly not the only set of sufficient conditions, because there exist very good managers who manage to make sufficiently accurate observation apparently without meeting the conditions I listed.
What advice might we give these managers? For the project manager, I would suggest reading Johanna Rothman‘s and Esther Derby‘s excellent book, Behind Closed Doors. What advice would you give? How about for the upper manager, several levels removed from the software developer?
In any event, my point was that the determination of who’s working hard and who’s hardly working can be made without those troublesome productivity metrics.