Today I am going to write about a topic that has always bothered me. I had not thought that I would write about it, but a post this morning by Seth Godin really triggered this post. His post is really promoting his new book Linchpin (Amazon Link), but it starts with an excellent quote by Andrew Carnegie:
Carnegie apparently said, “Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors……Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.”
I have no idea when Andrew Carnegie said this, but it is something that every company should remember. Employees matter. The question is why companies forget this fact. Godin talks a little about shareholders wanting more tangible assets. What if the company is not a public company? What if your company does not really have tangible assets like a factory? Then your people should matter even more. They should not be “resources”.
The first time I saw people mentioned as resources was during my consulting days. Not all consulting companies talk like this, but when a consulting company gets large enough, there is a tendency to move into this resource management direction. In software related companies, you see this trend quite often. As management looks at their budget, they need to determine what work needs to be done. Due to the financial focus, software engineers become yet another cost in the budget equation. This financial focus then trickles down to the people staffing the work, typically your first level managers, who then need to find the best allocation of people to work. This is the way many organizations staff their software projects.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some question of an engineer’s knowledge when staffing projects, but it seems to be a secondary concern. Earlier, I said employees matter. Why? During the time that an employee works for a company, they gain information about a company’s operations or even just gain some general experience that can help them in their jobs.
In the case of software engineers, the experiences are very valuable. There could be the knowledge gained within the specific products that a company makes, like a content management system, some enterprise software, or even development tools themselves. The other side of experience is the knowledge gained when working with new tools and technologies. In working at various companies, my experience and knowledge could be significantly different than someone else at the same company. I may have more knowledge in content management, analytics and social media integration, but my coworker may have more knowledge of XMPP, messaging (JMS/MQ/ESB) and general network protocols. In this example, can I be substituted as a resource on a project where my coworker was originally staffed?
Most people would quickly say no. However, when the time comes to staff a project you may hear excuses about the timing of projects, the availability of people and “other factors”.
Paper and money are resources because they have a finite capacity or duration of existence. They have no knowledge. People have knowledge, so why are they treated like resources?