Friday, February 12, 2010

The gorilla with too many hats

"So that said, can you code?"

I look across the interview table. Well okay I look at the telephone, cause I'm in the companies office but the person I'm interviewing with is sitting in his house 20 miles away. But that's another gorilla.

So I look at the phone.

I look down at my resume.

I look at the job description for this job.

Apparently, my interviewer takes my stunned silence for a request for more information. "Cause you see, we're running lean and we need people to do more than one thing. We might have to send you out to do a customer implementation by yourself. So how's your coding?"

Now Hogarth doesn't mind that the guy is on the phone. He's taking advantage of that by taking up the other two chairs in the room. "Welcome to the Teens, dude. If you can't do it all, then you're not good enough. Everyone has to work harder these days. If you can't code, do a balance sheet, fly to Malaysia for the weekend to close a sale and then get back on Monday to make sure the 300 person software roll out is on schedule, then you're no good to them."

Sigh… The "multi-hat gorilla"

Now Hogarth is right, to an extent. 2010 will probably go down as the year of 'do more'. With the global recession we are all being asked to work harder and do more in our jobs. It's part of the downside of the recession and the trend of higher productivity.

I'm all for productivity, but there's a difference between productivity and continuous partial attention. As you might guess, I'm not a fan of the CPA concept. Studies have proven (UCSD Study, MSFT Findings, just to name the first two I Googled) interruptions seriously affect performance. A single 30 second interruption can result in a 15 minute work loss.

I look back at the phone, "I don't code, that's what the engineer is for. My value is in making it so the engineer can focus on his job and not on the surrounding project issues. If you have four engineers working on the project of this size, adding a fifth one is already starting to hit that wall of diminishing return. If you add a dedicated program manager, you can get more productivity from those four engineers, than you would from adding a fifth engineer and expecting one or more of those engineers to also manage the customer relationships, deadlines, certifications, interface with marketing, etc."

"Uh huh…." came the reply from the phone. "So you don't code?"

Some gorillas are just better to let be.

There is value in improved productivity and we're doing more with less is the new norm. But all that said, a good, solid, project manager can make a team run more efficiently than just tossing another engineer on the pile. At least that's what Hogarth and I think.

Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email