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Sunday, October 03, 2010

quattroporte and hummingbird

time is money

Fermi problem of the day, anyone?

Assume there is this large organization, say with over ten thousands employees. For some (legal) reason, each employee needs to write down what she has been doing for the week, usually by Friday afternoon. Some record everything in details (down to the hours), some prefer to just express "8 hours doing FooBar" for every working day.

Since this is 2010, usually the system is web-based. To prevent abuse, some login/credential check and anti-bot system are also in place. It is often unheard that people use their beloved smartphones to do the job.

Let us say it takes one minute to do this. With a really conservative $30/hour rate, this is worth 50 cents. Assume ten thousands do that, so it's worth $5,000. This translates to $260,000 per year.

Of course this is just a gross approximation. It does not even include/exclude the extra time the managers spend to double-check their staff's entries, typically (much) higher hourly rates, non-working (also known as vacation time), wasted effort to setup (and forget) the reminders, occasional weekend shock at times you forgot it, and other similar (intangible) overhead. Or if you just need 5 seconds to accomplish the task. But you get the idea.

Now, $260,000 is a lot of money. You can buy a decent house in San Diego. Or two shiny Maserati Quattroporte. Or several hundreds Hummingbird-powered phones. Or, in some parts of the world, access to fresh water for the entire city all year long.

Surely for a quarter million per year some smart people will figure something out?


Anonymous said...

i'd suppose corporative production like in free software. no control overhead needed anymore ;-)

note: some peope call that socialism, i'd call it effective.

Taufiq A-21 said...

This sounds to me like a familiar scenario at a typical EPC (engineering-procurement-construction) company where

they link an engineer's (or drafter's) manhour to the correct cost center. I used to have to remember my weekly

activities and book my manhour accordingly.

Rather than having to remember what we do specifically, can the engineeering softwares that we are using

automatically detect the amount of hours we spent to a specific project?

Aaron J. Seigo said...

for a company with 10,000 employees, a quarter of a million on HR issues in a year isn't exactly huge.

that said, i think an important part of the equation is being missed. it would be possible to drop the cost to zero by simply not doing it at all. but it does, for some reason, need doing. that reason is the generated value of the process. you covered some potential non-monetary or otherwise hidden costs, but the value was missing.

in terms of generated value: why it needs doing, what it is being used for, what the information collected could be used for that it isn't (perhaps because of how it is being collected) is all part of that. it may turn out that spending that quarter of a million on a system that works well (1 minute per week would be a _very_ efficient system, btw :) may actually be saving many times that amount due to efficiencies it brings.

there could be other non-monetary benefits like giving people who work there a nice moment to reflect on their accomplishments for the week, to both feel good about what they've done but also to keep focus on progress being made.

which means that company in question may already be very happy with their investment in that system. which means no impetus to improve it.

conversely, the method could be grossly inneficient or demoralizing ("dammit, i need to fill out that stupid report again! i _could_ be getting a coffee right now instead. *sigh*")

without some idea of the generated value, the cost of the actions themselves are not enough to draw any useful conclusions from because we don't actually know the total cost of the system (estimated or not).

any solutions drafted from such a problem outline are as or likely to have negative as positive results. perhaps more so if we assume the current system was built with such information in hand.

fermi didn't just drop a sheaf of papers, he measured their mass and displacement along with the distance from the blast. so he had very little information, but enough of the right kind of information to make that little bit of information useful :)

Ariya Hidayat said...

The saving per se hardly matters, that was thrown only for the sarcasm effect :) What is actually highlighted here is how Big Corp still sticks with the classic "stick and carrot" strategy, even down to simple thing like time management.

gumb said...

This evokes memories of a system I set up a few years back in the company I worked for. There was a valid reasoning that since we handled several hundreds of clients, many of whom were on the margins of profitability, we needed to sort the wheat from the chaff and by calculating more precisely staff time spent on individual clients (in addition to non-client-related time) we should achieve that objective.

However, this company was always tight and unwilling to invest in anything, and we needed a lowest common denominator solution that would work across offices in different countries with different software and resources, so I managed to knock up a system using simple spreadsheets but with some clever pivot-table functionality, which was a great improvement on the badly constructed Word documents employees had been (mis)using to date.

Suffice to say the general Luddism inherent in that organisation meant that the extra couple of minutes per day required of each employee to complete the sheets effectively was viewed with widespread disdain, and it wasn't long before all my many weeks working on the project went to waste when the system was damned and dropped, despite it having gained the support of the managers. That couple of minutes per person per day would only have amounted to an annual bill of perhaps £6,000 per annum, plus my administrative time, but the savings would potentially have netted several times more in jettisoned non-profitable clients.

This was in a sense a victory for the employees over being enslaved to having all their operations overseen in minute detail, and I must admit a part of me echoed those sentiments, but for a company for whom 'progress' and 'survival' were dirty words, it only helped hasten its eventual downfall (I jumped overboard before the iceberg).

In that sort of scenario, or with the ubiquitous need for allocating everything to cost centres these days, like the previous poster mentioned, I can see a value in such a system, but I don't know any actual system that works well or is foolproof. Anyway, isn't there some KDE utility for time tracking? Sure I've seen it on KDE-Apps.