Utilizing Your Best Tools Most Effectively

Agile is centered on the productivity of the development team.  This is because it is the development team that is ultimately responsible for the delivery of the product.  No matter how well the story is written, or how brilliantly created the user interface is, or how good the content being featured is, if the work product is poorly built.  If the product is not a quality product then none of this will matter.  Users will only see that the site is slow, or difficult to use, or that it is buggy and unstable.

But unfortunately it is the development team that is most often pushed to work the ridiculous hours in order to hit an arbitrary deadline.  Or if they do manage to get the product completed in time then they are forced to work excessively in order to fix the problems introduced during the rush to get out the door.

A skilled Agile practitioner and manager, like a skilled craftsman, knows how best to utilize and care for his best tools, his development team.  And we, today, like the managers of the early industrial age are struggling with the question of how get the most of our tools.  And like these pioneers of the industrial revolution those tools are our skilled workers.

Recently, as the economy has started to rebound, this problem has started to become extremely acute.  According to TheLadders.com “we have not seen hiring like this since the days of the dot com boom”.

How many opens do you currently have?  How long have you been trying to fill them?  Why are they vacant and how does your turnover look?  Why do the people that you don’t want to leave, leave?

So how do we make the most of our tools?  By not breaking them.

Fatigue and over work are major contributors to poor quality of product and employee dissatisfaction.  By addressing this single issue we take care of a major contributor to employee dissatisfaction and product quality.  But by maintaining a sustainable measurable pace we can also increase overall productivity as well.  Here are a few specific examples of what I mean.

In study sponsored by IBM in the 1970’s found that “Products with the lowest defect counts also have the shortest schedules” (Jones 1991).  In other words poor quality was one of the most common reasons for schedule overruns.  He also reported that poor quality is implicated in close to half of all canceled projects.

(Jones, Capers. Applied Software Measurement: Assuring Productivity and Quality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.)

Dr. Ernst Abbe conducted his observations on working time and output at the Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany. Dr. Abbe, director of the plant, reduced the daily hours of work from 9 to 8 and kept careful records of daily output per worker before and after the change. What he found confirmed observations from throughout the 19th century: a moderate reduction in working time increased total output.  These were the skilled programmers of their day, producing some of the best optical products of their day.

(From the Work Less Institute of Technology, “Psychophysics in Cyberia”)

“Reduction from a 12-hour to a 10-hour basis results in increased daily output; further reduction to an 8-hour basis results in at least maintaining this increased daily output; but further reductions while increasing the hourly rate of output, seems to decrease the total daily output.”

(From The Economics of Fatigue and Unrest, Philip Sargant Florence)

During the industrial revolution numerous industrial experiments (according to some publications millions of experiments) all pointed to the same conclusion: “output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked” (from Tom Walker’s Prosperity Covenant).

In 1848, the English parliament passed the ten-hours law and total output per-worker, per-day increased.

In the 1890s employers experimented widely with the eight hour day and repeatedly found that total output per-worker increased.

In the first decades of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor, the originator of “scientific management” prescribed reduced work times and attained remarkable increases in per-worker output.

In the 1920s, Henry Ford experimented for several years with work schedules and finally, in 1926, introduced a five day, 40 hour week.  His experiments showed that workers in his factories could produce more in five days than they could in six.  His slogan became five days’ work for six days pay and he never had a problem finding all of the skilled and unskilled labor he needed for his great expansion.

At every step along the way — in the 1840s, the 1890s and the 1920s — the consensus of business opinion insisted that shorter hours would strangle output and spell economic ruin.

So at which point do we start to see a drop in quality of product?

“Where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week.”

“Initially, the extra 20 hours a week makes up for the lost productivity and total output increases”. … Construction productivity starts to drop very quickly upon the transition to 60-hour weeks. The fall-off can be seen within days, is obvious within a week…and just keeps sliding from there.

In about two months, the cumulative productivity loss has declined to the point where the project would actually be farther ahead if you’d just stuck to 40-hour weeks all along.

(The same report cites studies that show total output while working eight-hour days is either 16% or 20% higher than total output working 9-hour days.)

(From the Executive Summary of Scheduled Overtime Effect on Construction Projects, published by The Business Roundtable in 1980)

So, while in the short term additional hours do increase productivity, it peaks at 60 hours and for periods of longer than eight weeks it starts to actually have a negative effect in productivity.

At which point does it start to become dangerous?

Laboratory studies show that mental work declines by 25% during each successive 24 hours of continuous wakefulness. Sleep-deprived individuals are able to maintain accuracy on cognitive tasks, but speed declines as wakefulness is extended.

(From Colonel Gregory Belenky, the Director of the Division of Neuropsychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in his 1997 paper, “Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Human Performance in Continuous Operations”)

“In our study, FDC [artillery Fire Direction Center — ER] teams from the 82nd Airborne division were tested during simulated continuous combat operations lasting 36 hours. Throughout the 36 hours, their ability to accurately derive range, bearing, elevation, and charge was unimpaired. However, after circa 24 hours they no longer knew where they were relative to friendly and enemy units. They no longer knew what they were firing at. Early in the simulation, when we called for simulated fire on a hospital, etc., the team would check the situation map, appreciate the nature of the target, and refuse the request. Later on in the simulation they would fire without hesitation regardless of the nature of the target.”

The conclusion?  Continuous work reduces cognitive function 25% for every 24 hours. Multiple consecutive overnighters have a severe cumulative effect.

“In a study on the effects of sleep deprivation, investigators at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who slept four to six hours a night for fourteen consecutive nights showed significant deficits in cognitive performance equivalent to going without sleep for up to three days in a row. Yet these subjects reported feeling only slightly sleepy and were unaware of how impaired they were”

(Linda Cook, NINR “Sustained Reduced Sleep Can Have Serious Consequences”. National Institutes of Health. FindArticles.com. 13 May, 2011)

“Studies have shown that being awake for 21 hours impairs drivers as much as having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08, which is the legal limit for noncommercial drivers in the U.S.”

(The Los Angeles Times, Sleepy Medical Interns Called a Road Hazard, by Karen Kaplan, January 13, 2005)

“The night of March 24, 1989 was cold and calm, the air crystalline, as the giant Exxon Valdez oil tanker pulled out of Valdez, Alaska, into the tranquil waters of Prince William Sound. In these clearest of possible conditions the ship made a planned turn out of the shipping channel and didn’t turn back in time. The huge tanker ran aground, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the sound. … In its final report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that sleep deprivation and sleep debt were direct causes of the accident. … The direct cause of America’s worst oil spill (at the time) was the behavior of the third mate, who had slept only 6 hours in the previous 48 and was severely sleep deprived.”

“The final report of the Rogers Commission (on the Space Shuttle Challenger accident) said that the decision to launch made during a critical teleconference was flawed. The Human Factors Analysis section suggests that lack of sleep “may have contributed significantly.””

(From: The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William Dement)

So the lesson from all of this is that error rates climb as the number of hours worked start to impact the amount of sleep an individual receives.  Eventually there will be consequences perhaps not as life threatening as the two last examples above but if prolonged lack of sleep can cause  artillery to target hospitals,  doctors to work “drunk” with fatigue, major environmental disasters  and destroy space shuttles, what is it doing to the quality of the output of your technical resources?

By closely monitoring and actively limiting the number of hours each of our resources is putting in on a regular basis we can help insure that we are producing increased quantities of quality output while also retaining our most important resources and avoiding the not insignificant hard dollar costs of recruiting and training of new resources.

“Work is not your life, what happens after work is your life.  Your work is an enabler for your life”

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