Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

Play your cards right

with one comment

A new project is ramping up and needs more resources. Another project is winding down — maybe it can do with less.

Let’s move some people from one team to the other

What’s wrong with this common resource allocation decision? It’s not the decision. Moving resources to the project that needs them makes sense. What’s wrong is the words, which hide a false assumption.

Here, “team” means location. Move people from one place to another. Like conductors putting people on a train: the “teams” are two train stations. One called “Project A Station” and the other one, “Project B Station”.

But teams are not train stations. A team is not the room it sits in, or its box on the org chart. A team is the particular combination of people — their skills and personalities — and their shared experience. They know their project or product best right now, and equally important, they know each other and the special role each person fills. Reassigning people from one team to another is more than moving a person. It is actually dismantling the first team, and disturbing the second. The movement of people based on the train-station model of teams leads to a contradiction: both teams — origin and destination — cease to exist.

If we must model people and treat them as resources, a better model is a hand at cards. The managers are the players and partners; the game is getting more projects completed. There’s a fixed deck — the “human resources” of the company. Some cards may be similar in strength or level, but every card is unique.

The value of your hand is based entirely on the combination of cards you’re holding right now. If you or your partners need a stronger hand, everyone knows that some cards will have to be exchanged. Put down 2, pick up 2. I pick up what you put down. Resources. Cards. I know this doesn’t sound any better to workers than “counting heads”, but it is. Because every card player thinks twice before putting down a good card, and prefers to take over an entire good hand if they can.


Written by Tom Harris

July 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Agile

One Response

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  1. Excellent analogy. I wish more people thought this way; whenever I’m in a management meeting and I hear people talk about resource allocation, especially short term, I cringe. Not only do I find it quite insulting (I’m a person, not a resource! [or at least a number…]), but in the short term, 1+1=0.75, by the time you factor in training and acclimation to a new environment.

    Then again, the idea that adding manpower to a late project makes it later is nothing new…

    Mike Miller

    July 20, 2009 at 10:42 pm

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