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Productivity and hours worked

2024-07-08 23:24:06.794119+02 by Dan Lyke 0 comments

Good to see DeMarco & Lister mentioned in this. It's amazing how much modern software development stuff ignores things that we knew back in 1987: RT david_chisnall @david_chisnall@infosec.exchange

@bbbhltz @hacks4pancakes When people join my team, I tell them to go and look at productivity studies. Across different industries (I originally thought this was solely for knowledge workers, but I recently chatted to a researcher who has reproduced the same result in the construction industry), they all show roughly the same shape:

Productivity increases up to 20 hours a week.

It then plateaus up to 40.

It then starts to decrease and is typically negative by about 60.

This is the total net productivity, not the delta. If you are working 60 hour weeks, you would probably be more productive if you just stayed in bed all day.

For programmers, just think about how long it takes to fix a bug that you introduced when you were tired. Fixing mistakes (in any field) is often slow and expensive. Reducing the likelihood of making mistakes is usually much cheaper.

This is for sustained periods. People can often be productive for a 60-hour week if they are well rested, so if you have a one-off urgent deadline, it *may*be okay to work longer hours to meet it, as long as you take enough time off to recover. Averaged out (factoring in the recovery time), this tends to be less productive overall (ignoring the secondary impacts on people who have other commitments, like to see their families, and so on), so it’s generally a bad idea.

I want the most productive 20 hours of each employee each week. I don’t care when they happen (I’ve worked with some people who find they are most productive 2-4am, and that’s fine). Employees are responsible for getting enough rest to make sure that they can be productive for 20 hours each week.

I wrote our vacation policy to be explicit about the point of leave. It is not a gift from the company. It is not a reward for good behaviour. It is an obligation from the employees to the company to ensure that their brains are taken care of so that they can be productive. My contract (which is the model for new employees) has a minimum amount of leave I must take each year and a maximum time I can go without taking at least two days of leave.

The book I most recommend to new managers is PeopleWare and the most important point in that book is that, as a manager, it is not your job to make people work. Most people take pride in their work and want to do it well. Your job is to remove obstacles that stop them from being able to do good work. I don’t think it goes quite far enough because sometimes the biggest obstacle is the employee. If you’re hiring smart and motivated people, the most likely failure mode is that they work too hard and don’t notice their productivity dropping off. Sometimes you have to force them to take a week off (and you need a leave policy that supports you in doing so).

Sorry for the long rant, I haven’t had coffee yet and bad management annoys me, even when it’s depressingly accurate satire.

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Books Invention and Design Software Engineering Work, productivity and environment Heinlein Machinery Fabrication Model Building Furniture ]

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