in programming

Herding Cats at Google

From an Information Week article about Google:

“Lots of small, short-lived projects mean traditional project management software based on task lists isn’t right for Google. For one thing, techies aren’t very good at cataloging how they spend their hours. What they are good at, it turns out, is writing up a few short sentences or snippets about what they do each day. Those get compiled in a database along with periodic updates from project leaders about a team’s deliverables.”

(That link is from page 4 of 5, fyi.)

What’s more important to a non-consulting / hourly billing company – (A) tracking the number of hours employees work or (B) tracking the actual work done?

Hmm, let’s see:

  • (A) Tracking the number of hours worked doesn’t necessarily tell you how much work was done. It may give you a hint, but what if you’re having a day like Joel sometimes has?
  • (B) Tracking the actual accomplishments tells you exactly how much work was done. You know where the project stands relative to its milestones.

From a “how is the project doing” point of view, option B seems to make a lot more sense. Getting Things Done is what makes money. More hours will probably lead to more work being done, but why use a second order measurement when the first order measurement is available?

Plenty of people who are smarter and more eloquent than me* have discussed why you can’t just measure “techies” by the number of hours they work. I’m glad Google is doing something better. Meow.

* I’m not even smart enough to know if “me” or “I” is the right word there.

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