We're Not "Resources"
Resources. It’s a dehumanizing term that is also flat-out wrong for nearly every profession I can think of.
Project planning requires estimates and scheduling. I’ve got no problem with that except when it treats people as interchangeable cogs. In a manufacturing process, skilled workers might be interchangeable. There are only so many ways to stamp out a piece of machinery or otherwise work the assembly line. The process can be perfected to the exact number of steps involved in making a thing. Read The Toyota Way to get a better feeling for how world class manufacturers achieve this.
THESE AREN’T RESOURCES
But there are many, many professions that do not and can not achieve worker utility, where swapping out one “resource” for another is not feasible or sensible.
Does George Steinbrenner schedule a “short stop resource” or does he get Derek Jeter? Do the Yankees want home run hitting A-Rod or a mere “3rd baseman resource”?
Did the Chicago Bulls staff a “shooting guard resource” or did they need Michael Jordan?
Did Apple do well when it had a CEO “resource” or did they achieve the incredible after Steve Jobs came back to lead the company?
Do you want a 1st year medical intern (your “doctor resource”) performing your brain surgery or do you want the foremost expert in the field?
Do you want an “acting resource” or does Brad Pitt have more marquee power?
When was the last time you looked for a “contractor resource” instead of hiring the very best contractor you could find to renovate your home?
Thoughtworkers and creative types are no different. Software engineers are simultaneously creative and logical, and there is an order of magnitude difference between the best and worst programmers (go read Peopleware if you don’t believe this). Because of this difference, estimates have to change based on the “resource,” which means we’re not interchangeable cogs after all.
IT’S THE TEAM, STUPID
You can schedule me to be the Yankees 3rd base resource (thereby saving cost in the Cost-Schedule-Quality tradeoff), but I’m certain the quality of the product would suffer despite the fact that I played little league baseball for years as a kid. Similarly, you can cast me in your movie, but I’m not sure I’d sell any tickets. I wouldn’t do any better running Apple than John Sculley, and you definitely don’t want me performing brain surgery.
Winning organizations build winning teams, they don’t schedule resources and they don’t break up a winning team. They pay top dollar for top talent knowing that it’s entirely talent that makes a winning team.
Steve McConnell’s widely acclaimed Rapid Application Development ranks “Weak Personnel” as the 2nd classic mistake an organization can make when trying to build software. In discussing teamicide in Peopleware, DeMarco and Lister write “Most forms of teamicide do their damage by effectively demeaning the work, or demeaning the people who do it.”
Talent matters. Treating highly intelligent software developers as “resources” is demeaning, dehumanizing, and ultimately counterproductive to an organization that needs to build and field a winning team.