Sunday, August 30, 2009

Workforce on the Bench

I had written the following article about 2 years ago. I remembered it after watching a TED talk on motivation by Dan Pink. I have always been bothered by the motivation problem of being idle at work and the sheer waste involved. So, I decided to place it here in two parts.

A man in a village discovers that the scales in the local shop are not balanced. He computes the losses incurred by the villagers over the generations. He is so overcome by the sheer magnitude of the losses that he loses his mind. The memories of this story, I believe by Heinrich Boll, that I read over 30 years ago, came to my mind after reading about the manpower utilisation figures of some of the software companies.

Full utilisation of manpower in a service industry is not possible or even desirable. In the software industry, we know that 80% utilisation does not mean that each person is idle for about 20% of the time! If that were so, we would have implemented one of the significant attractions of working at Google. Unfortunately, I am reminded of the time when I was waiting for an assignment. It was in the stone age, without internet or even personal computers. I kept myself busy reading magazines, computer books, anything I could lay my hands on. And of course, waiting for 530 PM so that I could go home, mentally exhausted from doing nothing. Some days were particularly bad when I was asked to do some analysis urgently just when I was about to leave and had to miss my chartered bus. Had it gone on much longer, I would have lost my mind, or more likely, quit.

Another interesting example was when I was working for the Indian market and was perpetually short of resources. A colleague with whom I had worked earlier had just returned from an assignment and, well, did not like the idea of being idle. I could definitely use him even on a day by day basis but his manager turned it down. The manager's reaction, 'I would rather keep you idle for 3 months than risk delaying sending you for a project by a month.' This colleague did not wait around for much time. He switched jobs after a month.

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