Monday, September 5, 2016

Your Developers Are More Than Resources

These are more than resources
It is the Labor Day weekend in the United States.  I marks a turning point in the year as summer winds down and all attention turns to the fourth quarter and generating as much profit as possible before the end of the fiscal year.  As a scrum master, I spend so much time jumping from sprint to sprint that I find it hard to see the big picture of the how my projects are going.  It is a constant balancing act between tactical choices and strategic goals.   This week I want to talk about the most important part of the scrum process – the people who do the work.

I have worked in the technology business for over 18 years.  I have experienced the giddy and stupid times of the dot.com boom and the fear and uncertainty of the great recession.  The common thread through all of these periods was that work needed to get done.  In order to get that work completed many companies relied on consulting companies to augment their staff.  These “contract workers” were often treated poorly and given tremendous responsibility for the success of the project with none of the financial and career benefits if it did.  Add to this situation that many of these contract workers were working under H1-11 visas and you had a situation which resembled indentured servitude.  I remember working for one company and being in a staff meeting where everyone was afraid to speak because if they did they would be rolled off the project and they risked being deported.

I blame most of this misconduct on how technology work is funded in a corporate environment.  For instance, much of the technology work is considered an overhead expense.  Thus, to keep expenses down many business people only hire the bare minimum of technology staff.  There are a few help desk people.  Network engineers dot the organization chart and you see a manager keeping everything running on time.  Software developers and User Experience professionals are not considered “necessary” for the operation of the business until new software needs to be written.  Thus, when they are needed they are brought in like mercenaries to try and build software they have little professional or personal investment to build with any sense of craft.  They get paid for showing up and billing.  They are not compensated for creating shippable code.

Many of the people who do the work are referred to by other business people as “resources”.   People ask questions such as, “Do we have enough resources, to do this project?” or “Do we have the right resources with the correct skills?”  Every time I hear technology workers referred to as resources, it makes my flesh crawl.  It treats highly educated and smart people like they were rivets in a giant construction project.  I have never heard of iron workers referred to as “resources” by construction managers but every project manager I have known has referred to developers as resources.  It is so prevalent that I even catch myself saying it from time to time.

People who build software are not resources.  They are flesh and blood.  They work in cubicles and offices around the world from Chicago, to Belfast, to Chennai.  They are the people who are building to global economy one web page and user class at a time.  They take the vague ideas of a sales person on the back of a napkin and transform it into working software.  They maneuver through corporate politics and red tape to get things put on production servers.  They tolerate not having office supplies because there is no budget for paper clips from finance.  They work late hours and early mornings to communicate with off shore teams.  They make your business successful.  You just don’t see it because we keep all the lights on and everything working even if it requires metaphorical duct tape.

So show a little respect to your developers and the people who employ them.  They are more valuable than you know and they are more than just “resources”.

Until next time.