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Science, Numbers, and the Illusion of Time Management

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Science, Numbers, and the Illusion of Time Management

Zone Leader Matthew Casperson looks at the issue of logging hours and seeing development as a quota.

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Managerium - a unit of measurement that exists solely to produce reports that give decision makers the illusion that they can make simple, well informed decisions without any understanding of the actual complexities involved.

As a software developer, it feels like a lot of my time is spent representing what I do and how I do it in terms of manageriums.

Developer hours is a prime example of a managerium.

I am a developer, and I spend hours doing that work. If anyone knows what a developer hour means, it should be me. But I have no idea what a developer hour means. Is it the actual amount of time I spent on a computer writing code? Is it the number of lines of code I wrote? The number of functions? The number of tests? The amount of documentation?

I certainly understand the appeal of logging developer hours. Comparing estimated hours to actual hours is a cornerstone of improving estimation, and it is very easy to think about solving immediate problems in terms of “how many hours will this take”. Or, as Gil Zilberfeld put it:

We want to make confident decisions, and when we get the number we try to see if it fits our experience, point of view, ideas and knowledge. If it fits somehow, we can make a "go" decision with confidence.

The problem is that developer hours is a unit of measurement that is tied to the notion that developers are like factory line workers. Instead of adding a screw to a physical product as it moves down the factory line, developers are often seen as tapping on keys on a software project as it moves through to completion.

This tendency to view software development as a process that is streamlined to the point where it can be represented as the sum of the hours that developers spend tapping keys is so alluring because it produces such beautiful and comprehensible charts. But Martin Fowler has a blog post whose title says it all: CannotMesaureProductivity. This post looks at some of the fallacies around trying to measure the productivity of software developers, and leaves you with the distinct impression that many intelligent people have tried, and failed, to boil down what developers do into units of managerium.

So I sign off here to head into the office to create my 8 manageriums worth of productivity for the day. I just hope someone appreciates just how great those 8 manageriums look in the next monthly report.

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Topics:
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