IT Governance

Measure Throughput, Not Utilization

Utilization Isn’t Everything

Utilization, on paper, seems like the most important element to keeping your team running at full steam. After all, the idea of 100% utilization is the dream of businesses everywhere—teams that are always busy and always producing can’t be harmful, right? Well, Johanna Rothman disagrees, and explains why in this post on her website.

The first problem is that project work (the work that is measured in utilization metrics, primarily) isn’t the only kind of work that employees do. There is also periodic work, including monthly or yearly reports, training, vacations, and hoc work and support operations. These, if utilization becomes so important, can be ignored to make sure that project work is always the priority. Before you say that project work should always be the focus, consider for a moment the benefit of ad hoc and ongoing work: they’re what keeps the organization moving forward. Problem fixing is one of the best ways to make customers happy—which keeps the business happy. Making this less of a focus for your employees through an over-focus on utilization is dangerous, as you’ll likely end up with unhappy customers and unhappy executives.

Give People Space to Optimize

This is why Throughput matters:

It’s very tempting to think of people as piece workers. It’s easier to count throughput if you think a person is responsible for a chunk of work by herself. You could count that person’s output and know that you were accomplishing work, but knowledge work doesn’t work that way.

<em>When you look at knowledge work as piece work, you create bottlenecks. You prevent complete feature throughput. You don’t allow people to create the small tools they need for accomplishing their work, especially if they need help from others to accomplish that work. I don’t know of any software development that is truly solo; all the software I know about depends on a group of people who work together to create an entire system or product.

Dare to Take Time

But managers focus on utilization because it allows them to “see” every employee is engaged in something (not necessarily that they are making progress, but rather that they are utilized).  However, when viewed through something like a cumulative flow diagram, executives will be able to see how much work is actually getting done, and  that 100% utilization doesn’t necessarily mean 100% success.

Read the full article here:

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