You Are Probably Busy, But So Is Everyone Else

I was working on a project one time. The project aimed to provide systems engineering, architecture, integration, and test support across a large enterprise, including a portfolio of software products worked on a common platform and shared data. As you can imagine, this is a pretty big job and takes a lot of effort, and the team was pretty small. I remember when we were in the office doing our jobs, talking about being overworked and busy and having too much to do. One of the more senior engineers went and did some quick analysis to figure out, based upon the current workload metrics, how many people would it take to do this job correctly? They went and did the math and figured out to accomplish all the tasks, using the previous metrics and data we had for delivery, that it would take something like 120 people to be able to perform all the functions that were being asked of us across the environment. And of course, the current team was a total of maybe 40 or 50 people. So we are talking about more than doubling the size of the group.

Of course, that went over as you would expect with management. There’s no way we are more than doubling the size of your team, especially right away. Let’s be pragmatic. Even if I handed you 60 positions, how long would it take to hire and fill those 60 job openings? It would take potentially months, if not years.

The reality is everyone is overworked and has too much to do, and teams everywhere are stretched too thin. I frequently see assertions made about quality or delivery challenges that point back to the groups that don’t have enough people, and there’s too much to do. People very frequently report that they are all overworked and overstressed. And yes, that’s true. But you know what? It’s true everywhere. Everybody’s overworked, and everybody has too much to do. So the real question is, as a leader, what to do about it? Indeed, you should ask for more people and do the best you can to grow and hire. But let’s be pragmatic; that’s only going to get you so far. Here’s where many hard decisions have to be made, and your leadership skills are going to be stretched.

One option is to look at prioritization. You have to figure out how to prioritize and make those prioritization decisions. It can be a challenge to figure out the heuristics, the data, and the rubrics. But there’s a lot of value in that once you’ve done it, you can then utilize it and create scoring metrics for impact and importance. Now you can prioritize your work quantitatively instead of just responding to the last angry email or phone call you received.

A second thing to do is to use innovation. Where can automation be used? For example, let’s say one of their tasks is peer-reviewing software. Instead of just having more and more people doing more and more software peer reviews, can you take some of those people and have them build automation for the peer review? Because now you can peer review with automation. Yes, there might be a little bit of a velocity hit upfront, but in the long run, you’ll end up having even more throughput!

A third option is also to look for tactical opportunities to optimize. Sometimes you can find ways to create a single task that will meet three or four strategic goals. This one is challenging to do; you have to look around and figure out how to think outside the box to figure out how to create those tasks. For example, let’s say that two competing goals are to increase revenue and increase the quality of the delivered products. What you could do is create standardized deliveries with templates, checklists, playbooks, and so on. Your quality goes up because these templates and checklists use your existing lessons learned and reuse work that has already been done and quality checked. This also helps you increase revenue because you have something more concrete to sell, with past performance and use cases, and so you can build a marketing and sales platform around that.

Looking at these options here, you can see that there are ways to address the fact that everybody is too busy beyond just searching for more and more people.

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