Work Smarter, Not Harder

You’ve been working 12 hour days for the last 4 months. You’re coming off a night of only 4 hours sleep because all you could think about was the all-hands meeting with the CEO, CFO and CTO the next morning where you’d be reminded that you’re 3 months behind schedule. Your alarm sounds. You drag yourself into work. You’re there in the meeting – just barely – leaning back half asleep. After listening for 30 minutes about how important <this release> is the company, you finally hear it…

We need to find a way to work smarter (not harder).

The ultimate bit of useless advice… work smarter, not harder – or some variation thereof.

Thanks. Will do.

From managers (sorry for picking on managers but I think they’ll probably agree with me on this), the “work smarter not harder” imperative never seems to have the intended effect. It comes across more like “maybe if you thought about things a little bit we’d be done by now, we’d be getting rich off our stock options and instead of wasting your evenings in the office, you could be out waterskiing behind your new boat or golfing in Hawaii”.

What’s wrong with “work smarter”? It’s vague, there’s no method or actual goal, it devalues the hard work you are putting in, it always seems to come at a time of intense stress, and it injects panic instead of hope. Not exactly helpful. It is logical advice though and for some reason, I spent my weekend thinking about options for work smarter, not harder that teams can use to challenge themselves before the steady 12 hour work days kick in.

Here’s what I came up with…

  • What would we have to do to cut our tools budget by 50% while maintaining our productivity and quality?
  • How could we cut our regression times in half without increasing the size of our server farm?
  • How could we get 5 days worth of work done in 4 days?
  • How would we organize ourselves if we had no one to manage us?
  • How could we limit the number of known defects to 1 or less (where less == 0)?
  • How could we cut the size of our product by 25% without losing customers?
  • How could we condense our design documentation by 75%?
  • How could we lower our defect rate by 90%?

You’ll notice that these are pretty aggressive ideas and that’s on purpose. Aggressive goals like these would force teams to think outside the box (there’s another useful cliche :)) to find new/interesting/revolutionary changes to the way they work instead of looking for the evolutionary optimizations that never seem to get us much further ahead. These ideas are probably a good way to recognize the wasted time and effort in your development process that you’ve been accepting without realizing it.

So the challenge is… get your team together, pick a seemingly outrageous goal from the list I have or think of one on your own, brainstorm a list of ways to make it happen (no idea is too stupid) and then go do it.

Small optimizations are not an option. Go big or go home :).

-neil

Q. What “work smarter” goals would you add to the list? How would you (or have you) reached those goals?

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