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At Software Startup, Hours Are [Expletive]

Friday, September 2, 2011 by Slaughter Development

Productive, efficient, highly-effective people are often very direct in stating their point of view. One software developer in particular doesn’t hesitate to use a dirty word in his argument about measuring hours at work.

In a new blog post from Zach Holman, the message is clear:

Hours are great ways to determine productivity in many industries, but not ours. Working in a startup is a much different experience than working in a factory. You can’t throw more time at a problem and expect it to get solved. Code is a creative endeavor. You need to be in the right mindset to create high-quality code.

At first glance, we might dismiss Holman’s comments as being mostly irrelevant. Few of us work in startup companies; few people are software developers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does keep track of how many Americans work in factories (In 2010, about 7,779,000 of 134,004,000 workers, or about 6% in total). But many people in large organizations do feel like they are just a cog in a larger machine:

If we tweak this blogger’s comments to remove technical language, his argument sounds more broadly applicable. Check out how he closes the piece:

We’re currently at 35 employees and growing, and this approach still works great. But managers love to assign hours for a reason: it gives them the illusion that hours can measure performance.

If you don’t go hard on hours, you do have to look at different metrics. How good is their code work? Are they fixing bugs problems? Are they involved in work, or is the greater flexibility not motivating them?

It’s difficult to make these qualitative judgements, but they’re still going to be more valuable than “did this guy put in his ten hours of work today”. Because as soon as you make it about hours, their job becomes less about code meaningful results and more about hours.

That’s not to say that we agree with everything Zach Hollman has to say in his post. But we do concur that if you’re measuring hours, you’re probably missing the point. Even in highly-mechanized environments, it’s not the number of minutes that matter at work but what you do with them.

If you are paid by the hour, you may be thinking by the hour. Contact Slaughter Development to learn more about smarter ways to work.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

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The Worst Possible Decision - Sometimes, it’s hard to evaluate which choice is the best for your business. But it’s clear that one is always the worst: dismissing an employee. Read on »
Reading Employee Email - A few weeks ago, I was casually discussing the topic of corporate email privacy with another professional. Although the standard policy on the topic is fairly well-known, I was shocked to learn how his company managed individual email accounts. Read on »

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