Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fractional People: Obsessive Focus on Resources Misses Value

The sight was surreal. Just over 100 cubicles housed the IT staff. Organized by the system they supported, several score workers leaned into their screens. Working intently and quietly, oblivious to the body parts of dozens of others around them. The head of an analyst here, the upper half of a tester there, a half PM was split bilaterally. Fractionals manned a third of the screens.

Good work doesn't get done this way. Yet, portfolio planning, budgeting, and project management often do. Project managers, overseers, and financial stakeholders spend countless hours tallying bodies. They believe their centralized model of headcount-control is efficient. They are helping the company by shifting people from one project to another, adding, removing, and defending the status quo.

But, this neurotically obsessive focus on "resources" minimizes effectiveness.
  • Treated as fractions, people doing real work lose purpose. A few hours on this, a few days on that, back to this again. No predictability, no consistency, and no opportunity to leverage experience to make a dramatic improvement.
  • Work gets organized and prioritized by the availability of the various fractions, 2/3 of a tester, 1/4 of pm, 1.6 developers. 
  • Controlling the fractions becomes an exalted position that begets more positions - it's time consuming, you know!
  • The numbers give "cost avoiders" the ready-made metrics they need for browbeating possibility into an expense line.
  • And sadly, all lose sight of the real goal, the result they are supposed to be working towards: creating value for constituents of the organization they inhabit.
They are lost in the weeds managing cost instead of managing the leading indicators of value. What they miss is that by focusing instead on value, the bean counting will sort itself out. And will do so with far less work, far less useless work, and more satisfaction all around. And more value delivered.

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