Monday, December 15, 2008

Addition by Subtraction

Quick, some math teasers for you:
  • 5 + 3 + 2 + 4 = ?
  • 5 + 2 + -2 + 4 = ?
What is the answer to the first question? 14.
What is the answer to the second question? 9.

Let's put some names by some numbers:
  • Alfie is a +5.
  • Arthur is a +3
  • Ben is a -2
  • Bert is a +4
Assuming these numbers map towards their actual productivity, what is the actual productivity of this Sodor based development team?

Alfie + Arthur + Ben + Bert = 10 productivity points. So assume you can accomplish 10 "productivity points" worth of effort any given day.

Now the rest of the team isn't too fond of Ben professionally, Ben tends to introduce many bugs into the code, takes longer to finish tasks, and generally asks a lot of questions that wouldn't normally be expected of someone with his seniority.

Dennis the project manager knows that Ben is struggling, he has been working with Ben to improve his technical skills and get him more productive on the team. But so far there hasn't been much improvement.

Now Dennis is in a bit of bind.

The Sodor team has a big release coming up in the next few weeks, and Dennis needs to ensure he gets all the requested content in by this time. The team was building a new version of their flagship application, and thousands of dollars were spent on pre-release advertising. The deadline simply cannot be missed. Dennis is looking at the schedule and doesn't think he can get all the work done, he wonders if he should get another developer on the team, but he is wary of the rampup and training time. Not to mention the increased management overhead.

What would you do?

Instead, Dennis decides to do something a little more radical, he removes Ben from the team. It was a hard decision, Dennis carpools with Ben almost everyday to work. And no one likes making someone feel bad, but Dennis decided to do this anyway.

The productivity equation now looks like this:
  • Alfie + Arthur + Bert = 12 productivity points

An instant case of addition by subtraction. Without Ben slowing everyone down with simple questions and build breakages, the team is now able to go faster and get more done. All with less actual time on the project.

Dennis meets the timelines and budget. A good day all around.

Macadamian has written about this way back in 2003, and the principle still holds true today. Negative team members drag your team down. It is the manager's job to identify the negative team members and work with them to improve their productivity, if their productivity isn't improving then you must remove them from the team, and perhaps with due course the company.

Sometimes drastic change is required for the success of the project. Drastic change is hard to undertake, but sometimes it has to be done.

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