Work smarter?

I just loved the latest grievance from my students (see Monday/Tuesday/Thursday posts).  When being given more work than schedule to accomplish it, or additional tasks on top of their “primary” assignment, upon replying that they were going to have to slip something, that they couldn’t get it all done on schedule, they were told by their Management to just “Work smarter.” 

I’m not sure what this could possibly mean, but I’ve had it said to me in the past in the form of “tell your team to work smarter”, or “your team is just going to have to work smarter to meet the schedule that we’ve already committed to the customer”.  I’ve never passed it along to a team.  I wouldn’t know where to begin to explain what it meant, how they could do something differently to save them enough time to incorporate an unplanned task.

I could understand a directive to Engineering management asking them to figure out a smarter way to do development on the next project.  Maybe try Agile methodology or one of its cousins.  Maybe put a new tool in place, a software debugger, an automated testing tool, things that would take some up front resources to buy, install, learn, and create processes around, but ones that would pay off in the long run by allowing engineers to “work smarter”.

But a command to do so, to an engineer, in the middle of a project, when giving them additional, unplanned work: it boggles the mind.  It seems to imply that they’re purposely “working dumb” now, or perhaps they’re wasting time on the internet buying Christmas presents or bidding on eBay items.  It’s rather insulting.

Having some responses/questions at the ready might help:

·       Can we discuss prioritizing my tasks so I know which ones are most important and which ones can wait?

·       Can we look at each of my task deadlines to make sure none of them are obsolete?

·       Can I have my requirements written down so I’ll understand them better?

·       Can I purchase a tool to help me?

·       Can I document a process that you’ll help me get company buy-in for?

·       Can you get Marketing to stop making changes so I don’t have to keep reworking things I’ve already completed?

·       Can I take a class at UCSC Extension to help me “work smarter”?

Engineers are naturally reluctant to reply this way.  Sounds uncooperative.  Maybe this must come from the Team Lead or Engineering manager. 

Perhaps the Engineering manager might reply “Can we look at the work estimates that went into the schedule again to factor in this level of unplanned work, so my team can accommodate it?’

Or, perhaps “Can we put a work tracking tool in place to help me understand everything my engineers are being asked to do?”

Perhaps the questions will help Management understand the limitations of the situation.

I think, once again, it boils down to trust.  Trusting that the estimates weren’t padded and that the schedule safety that all good project managers build in was rationally calculated and visible to Management.

Trusting that the engineers aren’t really wasting time: that the web sites that Management occasionally sees on their monitors are there only for a brief time when the engineer is waiting for a system build to complete…

Anita Wotiz
Instructor, UCSC Extension, SEQ Program
Software Requirements Engineering (next class Aug 2008)
Software Project Planning, Monitoring, and Management (next class Nov 2008) 


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