This Month’s Pattern *

13 No Bench

The organization has become so lean that the loss of a key person proves catastrophic.

If you’ve ever set a second alarm clock or stashed some extra money in your glove compartment, “just in case,” you know you were practicing the most sensible kind of risk management. Things go wrong, and the way you protect yourself is to have some duplication of resource.

If you run a project team made up of professional knowledge workers, losing a key person is likely to be your most conspicuous risk. So of course you have an understudy or two tucked away, haven’t you? Maybe just one or two people with a range of skills that would allow them to step in easily for any one of the project principals? No? Really? How can this be?

The reason you don’t have reserves is that they cost money. (Pay attention here, this is important.) If reserves were free, you’d have a bunch of them, but they aren’t, so you don’t. The dictates of efficiency require that you utilize as few people as possible to do the work that needs to be done. A starvation economy may not be much fun, but it does make efficient use of resources, doesn’t it?

The problem with this reasoning is that it is all about money and not at all about time. On most development projects, time is a scarcer resource than money. Your project, at some point in the future, may find itself short on time, and when that happens, you and the management above you will wish you had the opportunity to spread around a little cash in order to buy some time. But that late in the project, opportunities to buy time are few.

Having some staff “on the bench” is potentially a way to trade money for time when a key person leaves. If you apply these reserves thoughtfully, you may be able to partially duplicate some of the key project skills. You will by definition extend your team size beyond minimum cost, but your reserves won’t be idle. They will be somewhat overqualified for the work assigned to them while on reserve, since they possess the skills required to step in as understudies, if needed. The advantage is that when you do lose someone, an acceptable replacement may already be on-site and ready to move rapidly into the role. Your project will lose less time this way than if you only begin to search for a replacement after you lose a team member.

* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.


Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
25-Sep-2018 to 27-Sep-2018

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Contact Require AB for details.

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
9-Oct-2018 to 11-Oct-2018

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details.  

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Oct-2018 to 17-Oct-2018

Budapest MRP
16-Oct-2018 to 18-Oct-2018

Tim Listr teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Aguarra for details and registration.

Rome, Business Analysis Agility
18-Oct-2018 to 19-Oct-2018

James Robertson teaches Business Analysis Agility. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
5-Nov-2018 to 7-Nov-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
13-Nov-2018 to 15-Nov-2018

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Nov-2018 to 16-Nov-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

in depth

Business analysis is often seen as a technical skill. But the business analyst has another set of responsibilities -- to dig into what the stakeholder's mind and uncover what is really needed, and not just what they say they want. 

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco's Andronescu's Paradox saga is now available in English in paperback and ebook, from Double Dragon Publishing.

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."

Suzanne and James Robertson's "Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing". 15+ Hours of Video Instruction. 

Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.