Why you can never have enough people in your teams… Or can you?

Maybe you will recognize the fact that there is always more work than your team(s) can handle. Overflowing backlogs, huge queues with (probably delayed) deliverables. Escalating customers, angry managers, overworked and grumpy team members…

This might sound frustrating for you as a Product Owner or Manager, but in fact it is great!
Because it means there is a real demand for what you are doing! For the things that your team(s) or department are creating or delivering.

This is one of the most important aspects of the Law of Economy/nature/existence… If there is no demand for your service, you should stop it as soon as possible… Because you are wasting time, money and effort.
And all that is not the case in your situation…

All that work and the fact people are complaining, means there is an actual real need for your product and service!

But how to deal with this?

Too often I hear the fastest and quickest solution: “We need more people!”
However, I believe, that should never be the first answer…

Because, there is also another way to solve or address it…
And that’s where two important concepts meet: “Unit of work” & “creating Flow”.
Using some lessons from other industries can help us as well in the IT world.

In ‘product’ factories each separate product has its own optimized production line. Because manufacturers learned in the past that it is very inefficient switch all from creating Product A to product B, back to product A and then to Product C, etc…
So, each product has its own production line, which is optimized to deliver the required amount of products per week (or any other period of time). Each product is a “Unit of work”, and the production line is an optimized work-“flow” to deliver these products.

Now, we can also us that way of thinking:

The Tasks your team is performing can also be considered as “Products”, we just call them different… Tickets, user stories, incidents, service request, features.

And because they all have different characteristic in how they should be handled, you can use these characteristics to define “production lines” for each of them and start to optimize these production lines to create an optimal delivery flow.

How do you do that?

First question: What “categories of  “Unit of work” do you recognize?
If you have found these, you will see you can create “Production lines” for these categories. No actual conveyor belts, but separate workflows within your team.

Create some flow in there 😉
And start improving these workflows!

  • Reduce the amount of work, time and effort your team is doing in solving issues and answering questions from users.
    This creates additional ‘breathing space’, gives “spare team capacity” which can of course be used to further improve.
  • Or on delivering new features.  When considering that as production line too, you can already start think on improving there to… (e.g. slicing features in to smaller pieces of functionality that can easily be created and released, Using CI/CD concepts and pipeline to increase “flow”, etc.… )

When that is also done, there is even more time to experiment with new stuff. New features, new technologies. That’s when you can start to amaze your consumers and have the most happy team members. Wouldn’t that be great?

But where do you get the time to improve things?

On all this improvement work, that is where you need to decide on priority and assigning team capacity. Also this is a nice challenge to the team itself, what would they need to start improving their own work? How much time and effort would it take? 5% of their capacity per week? 10%? Or 20% of their capacity per week? And for how long would that capacity be needed?

Then you can check: Can you actually perform these required improvement activities with the existing team capacity OR Do you really need some additional people for a certain period of time?
And what do you want these people to do? The improvement activities while the original team does the normal work? Or the normal work, so your team can do the improvement actions?

Still requesting additional resources?

Having thought on all these topics above and using that as a foundation to request additional budget and resources with your management will sound very different, then just saying “I need more people”. Chance of success will also be higher.

And even when your request is not approved, you can be very clear on the consequences of that decision. Because you will start improving which will take capacity from other work. So your management is now aware that you will be missing some KPI’s and deadlines in the near future. It puts you in control, they’ve decided but you have managed their expectations!

Managing expectations, that is really important!
Mmmm… That’s maybe something for another time…

If you have any question, or like to discuss your personal situation with me, just drop me an e-mail or a message!