March 14, 2014

People aren't Resources

"Resource planning" or "Resource Management" or "Resource blockers" I hear these in stand-ups, or project meetings and even on CSM (Certified Scrum Master) training. People who know me watch me cringe a little each time. I have this visceral reaction that I can't explain, my whole body cringes.

Why does it matter? Some people would argue that it doesn't really matter, its all semantics anyway. One of the many valuable things that I learned at PSL (Problem Solving Leadership) was words matter, what you say and how you say things can have a big impact on people. Tone will often have an impact on people's reaction and words will have an impact on their understanding. So yes it definitely does matter; but Why?

Wikipedia has the following definition for resource:


A resource is a source or supply from which benefit is produced. Typically resources are materials, services, staff, or other assets that are transformed to produce benefit and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable.

I highlight the following : in the process may be consumed or made unavailable.

This worries me greatly because in some of the interactions I have where people are using the word resource the context or tone seems to imply that it is ok if people get used up. One interview I was in a manager said that it would be ok if one of his resources died, because he would be able to be up to speed and take over in less than a week. 

The word resource implies an object, something that can be replaced or used up, then replaced. Resource implies that if I replace it then I will get equal or better performance. Let us take a PC hard drive for example; if my PC is old and my hard disk is slow and full and I replace it with a newer quicker disk, then the overall performance of my PC is likely to improve. 

People on the other hand are not objects. People have families and traffic problems, and children that keep them up all night.  People have parents that are sick and husbands that are going through chemo, or wives that are having an affair. People are complex beings with complex personalities and lots of different "facets" that affect both their behaviour and their performance. 

If the expectation is that they need to behave like resources where managers can just unplug one and plug in another one, then I believe we are not only deluding ourselves but doing all our people a disservice. The lives and the realities of life will have an impact on the people in our teams, and in our organisations. Some days Bob may be approachable and some days he may be short and irritable.  Somedays it will be easy for Bob to focus and get things done, and somedays he will be worrying about his daughter at university or his wife being sick. 

People aren't plug and play they aren't interchangeable at the drop of a hat. People have a myriad of small and big "things" (for want of a better word) that affect how they work, how they make decisions and how they interact.  If we can all start to think about the teams that we work with as individuals and people instead of resources it might be easier for us to realise that people are fallible and make mistakes. People are mostly trying to do the best they can, with the skills and resources (real ones) at their disposal and they can't see into the future.  

Maybe if we can start to do that we can start to see how expecting estimates to be exact and performance/velocity/lead-time to be constant and linear in its predictability is not realistic. Maybe we can start to see that we are all guessing some of the time, and all learning lots of the time, and all just trying to do the best we can. Maybe with that in mind we can start to see the people in our teams as people and not objects. With that in mind maybe we seek to understand each other more and be right less, and maybe with that in mind our interaction and our collaboration gets better. Maybe with that in mind we can work together to make better decisions about what we develop. We can make sure that what we deliver is of the highest value to our customers or our business. 

Ultimately; the better the quality of our interactions and the higher our levels of trust, the better the quality of the code we will produce and the software we will ultimately deliver. 

Written by: Joanne Perold of Scrum Sense
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Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.
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Image of joperold

Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.

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