Oct 12

People are not cattle

(Image courtesy of 9to5Mac)

It is impossible to predict the future. So why do some of us still try to bring their company into jeopardy in trying to do so. I think we all heard of top managers who think they have so much experience that they can read minds, bring success to projects by keep doing the same thing over and over again. And they take risks that others have to solve.

I was having drinks with some friends at a party when I got into a conversation with two visual designers. They where asking what I thought about the fact that they had to be billable for eight work hours per day. They had to do their work like a factory worker. Work from 9 to 5 with planned lunch breaks. I was completely baffled and a bit angry. How can you have a creative come up with excellent work if you do not allow them to be creative?

This is not the only company where this happens. There are a lot of them who still calculate offers with eight-hour workdays. They even refer to their people as resources as if they are some sort of material you need to use in order to manufacture something. To my opinion calling people resources is very insulting. I have seen offers that had a designer or a developer estimated for strict hours, from which it was demanded that people deliver quality work. And why, because the customer only has a limited budget and needs everything. Why do we agree upon this behavior? Why is it possible that in the creative or ICT world, some managers and sales executives still calculate work as if they think it is an exact science, it is deeply insulting to people to do so.

When are some of us going to realize that no one works for eight hours (if you have this number of hours in a workday). You are lucky when creative’s do four hours of work and developers around five. I even believe that a senior art-director does two hours at the most. And why is that? Creative people need time to be creative. They are not factory workers; their minds need time to come up with great ideas. In order to do so they need to get stuck and unstuck. They have to play, create, ponder, relate, argue, paint, sculpt, smudge and so on. Even if they are playing their minds are in creative flow. The same goes for developers. Even a hardcore introvert programmer needs time to get to produce great software.

So you can image what happens if you start pushing people to be more productive and you’re not allowing any time or slack for being creative. The opposite will occur and you will get terrible designs’ and crappy code. And is that what your customers want? I don’t think so. Stop treating you colleagues as cattle and let them go free. Banish the word “resources” when you talk about people. Change the way you sell and evaluate the work. I can start with giving solutions but that would be like stating the obvious. There is a lot to be found on the Internet, in books and you can learn from trainers or coaches about this. Start respecting people for what they are worth not how much they cost. Trust me, it will bring you where you want to go, high quality work and happy people on both sides of the fence.

In case you don’t know how Google works

Why fixed bids are bad for clients

Lean principle 6 – respect people

Story points, why are they better then hours?

The art of being creative 

Declaration of interdependence

Agile Manifesto


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  • Niels Talens

    Very nice post Erwin!

    I’ve also seen a lot of managers and sales people take estimated time as turnaround time. Really strange since everyone knows it doesn’t work like that. If they tend to do it just give turnaround times from then on. Simply the total it takes form start to end. (Thinking of it, why should we ever not give a turnaround time?)
    That doesn’t treat the root of the problem though. That’s like you stated that people should not be treated as cattle.