November 21, 2012

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

The Budgetary Autonomy Coefficient & Why You Should Treat Developers As Partners, Not Employees

In complex professional work, the ability for the people doing the work - the ones who understand best - to make decisions when they need to be made is very important.

So important, in fact, that I always look for signs that might helpme gauage how things are in that respect when I'm working with a team.

In some organisations, management put a lot of trust in software developers. If the team says they need new dev servers, they get new dev servers. It may be a £10,000 decision, but a medium-sized team will burn through that in a few days. Their time is worth more than the decision.

In other organisations, if developers say they need some more index cards or some blue-tack, they have to go through a standard internal purchasing procudure and may have to wait a week or two to get them.

I've seen teams wait 6+ months to get software licenses worth less than £200, and I've seen teams order and pay for £20,000 of training in under a week.

So I think it may be useful to have a simple measure to help visualise the extent of a developer or a team's budgetary autonomy - or lack thereof.

How big a purchase can you make without asking anyone's permission? And how much is your time worth?

Let's assume that the value of a developer or a team outweighs its cost (yes, this is not always true, but let's average it out.) So you're worth at least what it costs to employ you - and that includes factoring in fixed overheads like the office space you use and the cost of hiring you in the first place. For an average UK software developer, that's close to £100,000 a year, or £2,000 a week.

Granted, a big purchasing decision might take more time to process, but this all about weighing things up against each other.

If the lead time on buying a £200 monitor is 6 weeks, for example, divide that £200 by your cost for 6 weeks (£12,000). That would give you Budgetary Autonomy Coefficient (as I'm now calling it) of 1/60. If you can get the monitor the very next day (e.g., just go online and order for next day delivery), it would be 1/2. If you could pop down the road to PC World and pick one up for that afternoon, it would be 1.

Now, remember, this is not an absolute, scinetific measure based on the cost of making that decision. It's just a finger-in-the-air indicator of how easy it is for you to make execute those kinds of decisions.

And, I find, that can be a wider indicator of how much decision-making power you and your team has generally.

So, yes, monitors and index cards and blue-tack are fairly trivial things. You'll get by, I'm sure. But the same lack of autonomy that makes them less accessible to you has a tendency to translate into lack of autonomy over more pressing technology decisions, and decisions over the way the team works, and even who works on the team.

As a business owner, I have a default Autonomy Coefficient of 1 at all times. If the business can afford it, it's entirely my decision.

This is why I believe the best approach to managing teams is to treat them as businesses. In fact, from an accounting perspective, many organisations do. Well, sort of. It's common practice to manage departments as profit & loss centres. But that's only as far as budgetary accountability goes. they generally don't give them the same level of autonomy that a real profit & loss centre would need to function.

Treat team members as partners, not employees.

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago on November 21, 2012