Optimizing Human Resources

The job of management is to ensure that staff is fully utilized at all times. Here’s how to get the expected outcomes from that.

Human resources: people as cogs

The job of management is to ensure that staff is fully utilized at all times. Resources are being paid for a day’s work, they need to head down working for at least a full day, preferably more. Since we are speaking of DevOps, let’s discuss two real-world examples of management effectively ensuring that all resources are fully utilized in Dev and Ops.

Optimizing Development Resources

The most effective method I’ve seen for this was for a large team of 19 resources. The team was a mixture of experience from barely out of college to 15–20 years as developers. The manager, naturally, wanted to make sure everyone was working and wanted a good way to stack rank resources for their annual review. Jira dashboards were the obvious choice. By dashboarding the number of tasks each person completed during the sprint, the manager could easily discover who the top developers were and who were candidates for “trimming the bottom of the bell curve”. This lightened the manager’s workload, focused the developers on increasing output, and helped the senior engineers by eliminating the needless distraction of helping others who were not as proficient.

Speed to Resolution

With the success of maximizing development output, how do we get the most work out of operations? It's very similar.

A friend explained to me how operations are measured in his organization. Individual metrics are tracked for how many tickets are closed and the average time required to close tickets. These individual metrics are tracked against the team’s average for the week. This allows the team manager to ensure everyone is pulling their weight and that the recurring requests are closed in a timely way. This made management in the area happy because they finally found a way to ensure the remote workforce was earning their pay.


While neither example above included a process to inspect outcomes and compare them to desired results, outcomes were observed.

Development Outcomes

  • Staff Engineers focused on the tactical work of closing issues rather than the work of helping set technical direction, growing their replacements, looking for ways to improve overall operability and maintainability of the application, and ensuring general technical excellence on the team.
  • Work in progress increased because reviewing someone else’s code didn’t help you make your numbers.
  • Answering questions and helping others reflected negatively on your numbers.

Operations Outcomes

  • The drive to close tickets disincentivized understanding and correcting root causes.
  • Many common support requests for access or system configuration could have been automated and made self-service, but automating them would have taken time away from closing tickets.
  • Tickets were closed without full resolutions. Customers could always open another ticket.
  • Helping someone close a ticket had a negative impact on the person providing the help. Questions were discouraged. Arrows missing target

What to Manage?

Individual metrics applied in a team context will destroy teamwork. If the goal is to make it easier to “find slackers” instead of improving the outcomes, individual metrics are one of the shortest paths to turning a team into just a group of individuals who share a common set of work. Alternately, placing metrics around business goals, value hypotheses, delivered quality, and improving the effectiveness and sustainability of value delivery will improve outcomes for everyone involved. Yes, many organizations have people who do not pull their weight. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face to use metrics to try to find that. Instead, observe how the team works. Look for the leaders who are helping others. Look for the glue people who help everyone move in the same direction. Look for the idea people who are seeking better ways and helping the team run experiments. None of that can be measured except by what the team delivers. Focus on the outcomes.

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