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A manager must be able to answer the question "Are we on time? Do we need additional resources?". This happens to help a project, not to delay it. If a good team of developers estimates the effort needed for anyone task with a 20% accuracy (which would be very good indeed), that can make a 9 month project being 2 months late, which might or might not be acceptable.

If developer teams would be treated like the blackbox they apparently want to be treated as would mean that whoever is managing procuesses would fly blind just hoping for the best - but the organization as a whole needs to be understanding what is going on right now.

Time tracking can be a surveilling tool, but it can also be a tool to improve things - someone could find out that a team is running over capacity, and consequently assign more resources to the task at hand or redefine the task.

And, well, for morning standups: when done right they are a valuable tool for efficient communication, and probably better than having people chasing each other for hours on end. IMHO an organisation should agree on a communication strategy that is the most efficient and helpful for it. It is not a religious belief that a standup meeting must be done first thing in the morning, I think that tends to conflict w/the teams personal schedules the least.




>A manager must be able to answer the question "Are we on time? Do we need additional resources?" This happens to help a project, not to delay it.

If we know anything in IT, it's Brook's law: "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later".

So if the manager asks that for a late project, they are probably incompetent.

>If a good team of developers estimates the effort needed for anyone task with a 20% accuracy (which would be very good indeed), that can make a 9 month project being 2 months late, which might or might not be acceptable.

For a small (a few days) project, 20% accuracy doesn't make any difference. For a large one, 20% accuracy is science fiction stuff compared to the actual accuracy rates of big projects, especially the kind with changing requirements, new issues discovered en route, etc (which is most of them).

>If developer teams would be treated like the blackbox they apparently want to be treated as would mean that whoever is managing procuesses would fly blind just hoping for the best - but the organization as a whole needs to be understanding what is going on right now.

If the manager is not part of the team / actively involved (and thus he is inside the "black box") then any numbers they get is bogus, time tracking or not. Software is a qualitative process, not a quantitative. "5 hours spent on X" mean nothing at all without knowing what was done for X.


Brooks' law is not actually a law of physics though.

There is a lot of wisdom to it. But there are good ways to add resources and bad ways. Perhaps a team isn't getting help from another group. Perhaps there are some tasks that others could offload in a way that doesn't distract the team on the critical path, etc.

It's a good adage but it doesn't mean that you can never take steps to accelerate project delivery.


> Perhaps a team isn't getting help from another group

Then the team should communicate that to the other team themselves.

> Perhaps there are some tasks that others could offload in a way that doesn't distract the team on the critical path

That should be the decision of the team. If they need to cut down in order to stay on the critical path, then they should do so.


You seem to have a rather negative view of managers.

In my experience, good managers can be quite valuable negotiating with other organizations in the company and with getting needed resources. In fact, I'd say that's a pretty significant part of their job.


Brooks law applies to a late project. However if the project isn't late yet - recognizing it will be and adding the right people now can make a difference in preventing it from becoming late. This is hard: first you need to add the architectures and senior engineers (both are badly needed on some other project that will be late without them) spending a few years getting the right frameworks in place, only then can a bunch of new teams join - you take a hit while they learn the new architecture and framework, but a few months latter they are all getting their part done in near isolation. (note isolation - this implies you have figured out the modules correctly to avoid communication problems - a hard problem in itself)


> So if the manager asks that for a late project, they are probably incompetent.

Not necessarily. I've seen/heard engineers who take great glee in pointing this out, but they don't understand the real dynamic. The managers have probably read the mythical man month too.

If as a manager you report a problem to your boss, you're likely to get "help", even if you already have a plan. Sometimes the least costly "help" is to accept additional "resources" and fence them off someplace they don't do damage so that the rest of your team can execute its real plan. Turning down help can damage your credibility/relationships which is what you depend on to be "allowed to be successful". It's emotions, not logic.

Or, if you really really want to, you can tell your boss they're an idiot and need to learn about Brook's law.


>The managers have probably read the mythical man month too.

Some sure, but not the one's violating all of its conclusions...

>Sometimes the least costly "help" is to accept additional "resources" and fence them off someplace they don't do damage so that the rest of your team can execute its real plan. Turning down help can damage your credibility/relationships which is what you depend on to be "allowed to be successful". It's emotions, not logic. Or, if you really really want to, you can tell your boss they're an idiot and need to learn about Brook's law.

Well, this doesn't contradict what I wrote above though. Just finds for a more polite way to handle the situation and not let the extra "help" make a mess of things! But it's not like I suggested telling anyone directly they're an idiot!


Brook's Law always reminds me of one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons:

https://dilbert.com/strip/1996-04-15


"Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later" is not hat I even want to argue about. Discovering that a project might run late, and then doing the right thing about that is.. but how is one doing "the right thing" if developers don't want to communicate estimates vs. reality?

"For a large one, 20% accuracy is science fiction stuff compared to the actual accuracy rates of big projects.." (exactly, I made that point as well) "..especially the kind with changing requirements, new issues discovered en route, etc (which is most of them)." If you are working in an environment where shipping something at some random point in the future is fine, well, good for you. The rest of us doesn't work in that world, which means that if you start a large project, lets say over the scale of 1 year, you cannot not talk about progress during that year. This is the point that I want to make.

In that sense: "5 hours spent on X" means, dishonesty aside, that 5 hours have been spent. This has some meaning, namely:

- a) if the estimate has been 1 hour, and this doesn't cancel out over time there is a systemic problem which puts the entire estimate to question. So someone should do something about that, and, whatever that something is - adding new or different resources, changing the goal, changing the timeline, whatever), it is usually not something that developers could do. (Not that I think 5 hours is a useful estimate size for any feature; 1 week, on the other hand, for a set of features would probably be useful)

- and b) if you figure out that team members are frequently spending more than 8 hours per day for whatever features (adjust 8 hours to whatever the team agrees upon) then the team is overloaded, the workload is not sustainable, and, again someone should do something about that...

Really, it shouldn't come as a surprise that - opposite to developers' lore - managers really do add value, especially when they are good managers.


What you get from Brooks Law is really that one should never put more people on a project? (Late or whatever?)

That's an insane idea (it does lead to the conclusion that the optimal team is zero sized), and not an answer to the GP's claim that a good manager must know when more people will/won't help.


The point of Brook's law isn't that extra people won't aid conclusion but that the overhead isn't free and unless the date is grossly overambitious (like 10% done) adding more people will add more tasks in "creating infastructure".

Lets take say Civilizations for example and say you need to build a spearman in 7 turns to not lose - but it would take 9 right now you already have production maximized without adding new buildings. Technically building a forge could speed it up to 6 turns but it takes 20 to build it. Even if it would help adding it right now would only make an intolerable delay even worse.

To get away from the geeky metaphor bottleneck and chokepoint management are a crucial part of making projects parallelizible across many developers and even then there are expenses to making them interoperate.

Unless you are grossly behind it is unlikely adding more people will help unless you are vastly overambitious and try to do something with one person that requires a team of thousands. In which case you have probably already failed too massively to help.


That's the pithy aphorism. Brook's actual claim is a lot more nuanced.

The output of n programmers working on a single task is O(n), but each one of those programmers must coordinate with O(n^2) colleagues. As more people are added, the coordination costs begin to to take over, and the project slips further and further behind. Thus, going from 2 to 4 programmers might be a great idea, while 20 to 40 or 200 to 400 may doom the project.


This is reason humans naturally form hierarchies. It changes the system from O(n^2) to like O(n log n).


Nice observation :-)

It's potentially a bit better than O(n log n).

If a hierarchy settles into a strong tree structure, it approaches O(n) connections people have to handle - one bidirectional connection between each person and their immediate superior.

To put it a different way, a hierarchy has potential to scale without limit, or to put it differently again, the larger a system of people, the more they will be forced by necessity into a strict tree structure for the majority of 1:1 communications.


Except the people you need to interact with are very rarely the same people.

It's much more advantageous to form cliques. Small highly connected groups that work on the same thing, possibly with some lose connections to other cliques. That's the model that most closely resembles towns, cities, and even tribes.


Yes, but software project hardly ever tree-ize so neatly.

Talking to your team boss is good for high level guidance, but wont do anything when what you really need is the details on the workings of X a colleague knows.


Yup, and that was his solution. Small teams that don't need to coordinate much, and well-defined roles for the people on each team.


>What you get from Brooks Law is really that one should never put more people on a project? (Late or whatever?)

Where did you got this idea from what I wrote (in fact, from my direct quote of Brooks' law)?

>That's an insane idea (it does lead to the conclusion that the optimal team is zero sized)

That adding people to a late project makes it later doesn't "lead to the conclusion" that "optimal team size is zero".

That's what's actually insane (one common form of insanity is following a logic to extremes without caring for nuance and limits).

Just that more people is more overhead (e.g. managerial and communication and agreement overhead), more people later equals more time to bring them up to speed and hand-hold them until they're ready plus the added overhead (related with more people) even when they're ready.

Brook's law doesn't say you should never put more people on a late project. It does say that you should not realistically expect the project to finish at (or sooner) than the initial estimate because of you adding more people.

In other words, for a late project with X persons working and M estimated months to completion. The real completion with X persons might be MR months, and with more persons X' it could get to MP. Adding extra programmers won't (per Brook's law and based on typical observations) ever help it reach M.

Sometimes adding more persons will make things worse, where MP > MR, other times they can help finish faster than the "actual" (not the initially estimated) finish date, so that MP < MR.

So it might still be advisable to add extra people -- it just wont (per Brooks law) get you to finish in M, and in some cases might even get you further from MR.


I've always interpreted this "law" to mean just throwing resources at a problem without understanding the root cause will make things worse.

Like the idea of throwing good money after bad, if the problem isn't rooted in lack of resources (e.g., if the problem is actually rooted in bad communication, bad training, bad requirements, etc.) it's not going to help.


It's more that there is an amount of people that will minimize costs, any more or less than that and costs will increase, and another amount of people that will minimize time, again, any more or less and time increases; also, adding people in the middle of a project imposes a nearly proportional loss on time and costs.

He didn't even get deeply into differences between people in that chapter. It's just very basic stuff that is on project management 101 since forever. Yet he had to write it down, and most people still don't seem to understand it.


>I've always interpreted this "law" to mean just throwing resources at a problem without understanding the root cause will make things worse.

It's more about communication and coordination overhead as teams get larger (and new additions need to be brought up to speed etc).


> "Are we on time? Do we need additional resources?". This happens to help a project, not to delay it.

If, by “resources”, you mean people, then Fred Brooks might have something else to say about that.


You bring good points to the table. I’ve seen time tracking used extensively, but never to (intentionally)gut morale, more for metrics, ie project x took 10,000 man hours, and project y is sorta like that if you squint a bit and tilt your head to the left, so it should probably take us 11000 hours. It’s helps large organizations project staffing needs and keep everybody gainfully employed. Managers don’t like laying off people and usually do want everyone to be productive.


I'm not convinced that managers want everyone to be productive, because so many managers act to undermine and disincentivise their subordinates. When the drag is unintentional, I think many managers would rather not think about how to compensate for it. And sometimes it's intentional.

I think the biggest risk introduced by time tracking is well illustrated by a sibling comment:

> My boss knew how long particular task took and asked if I need some help afterwards. It was great support and mentoring. But I now experience exact the opposite. My managers come to me if it took me longer second time than first time to complain about me being to slow.

It produces a misalignment of incentives: If you do a great job one week getting visible things out the door, then you're punished for the rest of your time in that job, rather than rewarded for doing great. So you know in advance, it's better to deliver slower all the time.

I think a lot of people have in the back of their mind an instinctive trepidation for detailed time reporting, because of fears it will invite that sort of paradoxical push, preventing them from doing the best work they know they could be doing. "To speed you up we need you to attend more meetings."

I've also witnessed a different kind of time-tracking problem. Someone logs into a reporting system that, say, they worked 200 hours on a project so far, since the last 3 month report.

Some people don't take the person's word for it. I've seen bosses, peers, coworkers say "I don't believe you, no way that took 200 hours! You've done maybe 10 hours at best. I could do it in a weekend, if only I had the free time. Anyone competent could! If only I had the time to organise someone to replace you. You're lucky to work here, your job should be given to someone else who doesn't lie about what they've been doing. (etc.)"

What's really happening is the person has put in 250 hours (350 if you count that unpaid overtime they did on their holiday and weekends), but reduced it to 200 in the report because they know what their boss/peer/coworker is likely to say.

If freelancing, they only bill for 200 hours, feeling like in a just world they would bill 350, but it's not a just world, and if their client is unhappy, maybe their work doesn't deserve full rate.

Often, boss/peer/coworker is quite incompetent, and wouldn't be able to implement the thing in 200 hours, let alone 10 - their lack of ability or familiarity with the job is what's making them estimate such a low figure. And no surprise to anyone, they can't find a replacement who will do the same thing in less time - although they sometimes find replacements who say they will, and then don't. The cycle continues, rinse and repeat.

So unlucky time-reporting worker is forced to do things to "prove" they are telling the truth about the time they've put in at least, while feeling a heavy dose of imposter syndrome.

Things like ass-on-seat, make sure screen is visible to others at work (to prove not using social media), timing of repo commits designed around reputation rather than problem solving, participate in social chats/IMs just the right amount (too much = slacker, too little = slacker), same with meetings.

And weirdly, it works. Because visibility matters a lot more than results.

If the above sounds a bit like I might be talking about myself... not really. I've had those sorts of accusations a few times, but it's outweighed by the rather pleasant discovery that I've worked for people who are surprised that the hours I bill for (I often freelance) are lower than they expected.

However, the few times it's happened, I took from that the importance of not doing it to other people, even if I'm unhappy with their work. Because it's so undermining at a rather fundemantal level.




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