Putting in Hours vs. Getting Things Done

September 27, 2012

Ever heard this one: “Come on everyone! If we’re going to make the deadline, we’re going to have to put in some hours!” or “Jimmy is really working hard — look at all the hours he’s putting in!” Yes, Jimmy is putting in a lot of hours. Yes, Jimmy comes in at 9:00 am, and leaves at 11:00 pm. Jimmy is putting in hours. Jimmy is also writing crap that has to be re-written, missing requirements, and pumping out more bugs than functional production ready code. But boy, he sure is putting in hours.

A great book I read early in my career was “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker, who many consider to be the father of modern management. In the book, he draws a clear distinction for how the modern manager was going to have to learn how to manage “Knowledge Workers“, as management techniques that worked for Factory Workers were not applicable. He used the analogy of laying bricks: If you spend more hours laying bricks, you will lay more bricks per day, and will therefore be more productive. Knowledge workers, on the other hand, are not more productive the more hours they work — in fact quite the contrary.

Instead, he put an emphasis on something else: Effectiveness. Are we getting the right things done, and in the right order? Rather than look at a metric that is easy to measure but irrelevant (hours), look at something that is difficult to measure, but extremely relevant (work completed). Whether it’s XP, Scrum, Lean, Agile, Kanban, or whatever the trendy label of the day is, it has the same intention: 1) What are the important things that need to get done, and 2) What is the order in which we need to do them. I used an important word there, but you might has missed it: DONE. Not started; not in progress; not finished yet to be tested; not tested but with bugs — DONE. Jimmy is busting his ass — sure he is — but is he getting the right things done, and in the right order? If he is, give Jimmy a pay increase and a spot bonus — he’s probably the most effective employee you have. I do worry about his home life though… hope he’s single with no kids.


I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.