I often encounter people who deal only with false promises and a lot of people fall for it and yet take it easy as if it is normal.

Consider the following scenario.

There are two tailors who have setup shops side by side, during the festive season you go to store ‘A’ and request to tailor your suit in a week which is made of very expensive cloth. The tailor informs that due to the workload you will not be able to get the suit in a week but in about 10 days which is cutting too close to the day of the festival. In the past this tailor has delivered with good quality on promised dates but this is too close for you to take a call.

So you visit store ‘B’ where they also have a similar workload and backlog but promise to deliver to you within 5 days. They cost a little bit less and you are happy with the deal. 5 days later you turn up to collect your suit and you are in for a shock that the cloth has not yet been put in the queue for cutting and stitching. After losing your cool and talking to various people who play bad and good cop finally you are promised to get the delivery in another 5 days. 

5 days later, you have to be ready for the event in the evening so you drop by the tailor to collect your suit. You notice that the tailor is still stitching in a hurried manner and makes you wait for a few hours before giving it to you. On getting the suit you notice that it has a lot of glitches like double seams, improper creasing, misaligned pocket flaps etc. Only a few of them gets somehow masked and you end up late for the event in a spoiled suit. 

After the event you take it to Store ‘A’ and they tell you that they can fix it but it will take 10 more days and cost the same as a new suit as there are extensive repairs to save the expensive cloth. You reluctantly agree and at the end of 10 days you are surprised with on time delivery and the quality of the suit. You leave the place with a regret that you did not place the order with Store ‘A’. 

The scenario is similar at all levels even where the deals run into millions. The lure of a sweet price is so much that no one takes a look at the feasibility. Only in some cases the person making the deal is the same person getting the bad quality; but most of the cases the person making the deal gets good benefits for the sweet deals and the brunt is borne by someone else often many steps down the ladder. This leaves no room for direct observation and hence the feedback loop is never closed; the sweet deals and bitter quality output keeps going on rounds. 

One of my friends tweeted this recently

The bitterness of poor quality lingers much longer after the sweetness of a cheap deal has disappeared. 

Image courtesy: rawpixel on Unsplash

I went to a restaurant for a buffet which was a bit crowded. I thought the service at some of the live counters will be slow but was surprised that the people at the counters were able to serve large number of customers in a short span of time, especially the salad counters.

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I was curious so visited one of the salad counters to see how was it possible for them to serve that many people at once. It was shocking to see that in the name of speed the person at the counter was cutting fruits in such a way that about half of them got thrown away along with the skin and the seeds. If this person had maximized the fruit content then it would have taken 4-5 times the amount of time taken now on fast cuts.

It is very clear that the restaurant can afford to waste as much of half of the food because they still gained from servicing a lot more people than operating efficiently. It was optimized for time not cost.

This is something people don’t understand while choosing tradeoffs, people often choose both cost and speed as key without giving a second thought that both cannot go hand in hand. If the same set of people had to do things much quicker and at a larger scale there has to be expenditures in tools, training and also some change in processes where there will be huge wastes before optimization kicks in. This is what happens in software development teams, often there is a tight budget and an impending doom if something does not happen; leading teams to easy burnouts.

I did not include the word quality here as it is non negotiable, you can do things quick and cheap but with a poor quality of work like serving the fruits with seeds still intact or skins not peeled well. That is not work done, there is no work without quality; eventually it drives away customers.

Next time when you have a debate about speed consider moving the cost sliders.

 

 

 

Often I come across questions like ‘is that what the max you can do in that situation?’. During these moments I get tempted to ask questions like ‘I saw you walking to my desk now, why did not you run?’.

I sense that people have misunderstood maximum to be optimal. Optimal is sustainable, maximum is usually followed by a recovery. A spike needs a dip because it is a zero sum game, there is nothing called sustainable peak performance; a peak has to be followed by a trough. heart-rate-1375324_1280

Managers always had a lot of coercive power and traditionally management was done by giving standard operating procedures and instructions. People needed to follow the instructions by the dot and put in the required number of hours without questioning as the supervisor had defined the tasks such a way that not much skill is required to produce a good output. As the output was directly proportional to the number of hours worked with strict supervision, people were made to work as long as possible with scheduled small breaks in between.

This works well as long as the output of a person’s work is directly proportional to the number of hours worked. Does it apply in software development? Nope, it is tough to correlate productivity with the number of hours worked on the task. Not just software, any knowledge work requires people to feel bored once in a while to get to a more innovative state of mind. Knowledge work also requires a healthy state of mind and body.  The proverb ‘An idle person’s mind is a devil’s workshop’ was coined when work meant only physical. There is no way to measure productivity just like no one can ever master a language 100%.

What stayed was the coercive power of the managers and the impression of long working hours & weekend work as productivity indicators. Some managers have gone to the extent of installing software that detects and logs activities which rewards pointless usage of computers while a lot has to be done with discussions, thinking, writing/drawing on paper & sometimes the answer flashes when there was nothing to do after an intensive bout of concentration at the problem in hand.

Maxing out is an option while we are playing sports like athletics where there is a disproportionately long recovery period that makes someone to push themselves so much so that they injure themselves to achieve peak performance. There is another place where maxing out is required, when people are fighting against each other, maxing out is never a peace time activity.