The human case for acknowledging and measuring wasted time
Acme Corporation is a famous software company employing around 2.000 developers. Like many other companies out there it has ensnared its faithful employees in a devious plot. It is murdering them, legally and out of sight, by wasting their time.
Acme Corporation is proud of its unified software development workflow. Despite multiple acquisitions, all of Acme’s developers share the same way of working. This means Acme can act swiftly on new market opportunities because re-organizing teams and shifting resources around is easy.
All of the teams have adopted and love Continuous Integration. However, mistakes can still slip through and break a project’s master branch. But, it’s no big deal, these are highly motivated developers who are always quick to fix the build right away.
And this is exactly how Acme Corporation legally murders a developer every year. “Hang on. What?”
Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin maths. Let’s say each developer wastes around 8 hours per week on fixing broken builds. Granted, that’s rather high, but let’s roll with it for now. With 2.000 developers, that’s 16.000 hours wasted by broken builds per week, or 2.286 hours per day. As puny humans we only have around 700.000 hours to live. One can therefore conclude that Acme wastes an entire human life every 306 days with broken builds alone.
Acme doesn’t exist, but there are many real corporate behemoths out there trampling their employees’ precious hours underfoot with poorly optimized marches for profit. The Acmes of the world often don’t acknowledge such waste, so they can’t work to remove it by, say, adopting pre-tested integration. The question is, how can you, as a faithful employee, prevent yourself from being slowly murdered at your desk?
Many (all?) developers complain about having their time wasted, but few actually get up and do something about it. Fewer still manage to do anything besides waste more of their time. Waste definitely isn’t removed by complaining, nor is it removed by lone cowboys. No, removing waste starts with acknowledging and measuring it.
So, when you end up wasting time due to a failure or manual task don’t shrug it off. Ask yourself, has this happened before? Could it happen again? If so, record the time you lost. Even a rough estimate is fine.
Once you have a few data points extrapolate and do some quick maths. Find out who owns the problem. If the company loses around three days of time per month to an issue, and six days of the owner’s time could resolve that issue forever, that’s a pretty clear return on investment. Sharing these numbers with your team, manager or boss is a great way to make sure the issue gets the attention it needs and is resolved properly.
Or, you can continue to sit there complaining at your desk, waiting to be murdered.
Looking for reading material on tackling waste besides my humble post? Check out the following brilliant book by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim:
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