Managing Trust


Productivity of a programmer should be measured by how much business value he or she delivers. Since measuring productivity in terms of business value is close to impossible, most managers measure instead working hours of programmers. Measuring amount of time somebody is chained to his or her desk is a bit better than measuring lines of code he or she writes, but feels nonetheless a relict of a bygone industrial age when people slaved away at conveyor belts while their intellect was supposed to be suspended during work as it was not essential to the production system. Instead of measuring working hours, modern agile practices prescribe measuring productivity of programmers by counting story points. In principle, a story point should be a yard stick for complexity of a story, but in reality it's just another proxy for measuring working hours that uses statistics instead of work register clocks. The real reason why managers insist on measuring working hours or story points of programmers is because they distrust them and feel cheated by them. But if they see rows and rows of programmers quietly sitting at their desks diligently typing, it gives managers a warm cozy feeling that they are in control. Which is of course just an illusion, as all the late projects and failed products can well testify. If programmers want to get rid of industrial-age productivity measurements, we will have to earn trust of managers that we are doing the right thing and that they should trust us. As programmers are usually very bad at understanding needs and emotions of non-silicon beings, it is the role of engineering management that is essential in bridging the trust gap between developers and top managers. In my opinion engineering managers should strike a deal with developers and give them more freedom in exchange for commitment by developers to show more understanding for the business goals of the company, more empathy for the end users, and most importantly, to always keep promises regardless of what it takes. It is these traits that managers really want to see in programmers, not amount of working hours logged!