I’m not exactly surprised, but this is the crucial bit for me:
Work-life balance improves both work and life.
Good on them for making at least some effort to measure.
The next step for a brave organization would be to try limiting to 35 hours/week and seeing what the effect of that is.
Sweden has gone further, experimenting with a 30 hour week: http://www.thelocal.se/jobs/article/swedish-workers-to-test-six-hour-work-days
There was an interesting review of this (Sweden and the 30 hour week) on the BBC More or Less programme, if you’re interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04n7vlg
Thanks! I listened to it. I certainly buy that the optimal number of hours is not necessarily the same in all industries, not companies, nor individual employee. However I think that for highly physical work rested employees will perform better. And so too for creative work. And for work that is neither creative nor physically demanding, I imagine you still get fewer errors from rested employees. And all three groups will get more spare time to do with as they please, so I can only imagine they will be happier: it could be good for staff retention. And with their findings showing that sick days went down from 31 days a year to 15, making predictability of staff coverage higher could be very important. (Especially where you need round-the-clock cover as in hospitals and nurising homes.)
I’m glad to see this. 18-F seems like a great program.
As I get older, I’m more interested in mission-driven organizations like government agencies and non-profits than in for-profit enterprises, because I’ve recognized that we are unlikely to see any regard for technical excellence in the for-profit world in lieu of heavy regulation or a cultural shift (de-Boomerization) that will take a long time. Bell Labs isn’t coming back, nor is Xerox Parc, so the idea that you can have your cake and eat it too (Google salaries, Bell Labs culture and technical excellence) is out, at least for now. The cost cutters have won the cultural fight in the corporate world and their victory (our defeat, for those invested in the ideal of technical excellence) will not be reversed.
When there is an important mission, people will work 60 hours per week to get it done, but they almost never need to do so. Often, it’s force of habit. Adult project management (which is the antithesis of what you see in SillyCon Valley) is all about redundancy. So the truth is that a well-engineered organization would probably function just fine if people worked 10 hours per week; of course, the people involved in such organizations are usually highly motivated and therefore not inclined to slack, even if slack is built into the system.
The problem in the private world is that even if you can achieve the mission (to the extent that there is one) in a 5 hour work week, you do everything you can to hide that fact. Why? Because there are people whose job it is to cut costs and squeeze people, and even if they seem friendly and concerned with others' careers, they’re not. So it’s adversarial by nature. This leads everyone to put noise in the system and DoS the cost-cutters with apparent productivity (that might be meaningless) so that no one really knows what’s going on.
I’d imagine that when you have a mission-driven organization like 18-F, you have to deprogram the people (as described in the OP) who come from the private sector, because while in a corporate environment, you have to behave adversarially (not maliciously, but with self-preservation as an unambiguous top priority) just to survive, a mission-driven organization really needs everyone to be on the same team.
Adult project management is all about redundancy.
I used to work on what I felt was an important mission where much of the work was time-sensitive and this is something that I felt very acutely. If you, as project manager, provide resources adequate for the projected median level of demand AND your projections and everything else are right, congratulations! Your team will be under-resourced ~50% of the time (assuming A Few Reasonable Things about the probability distribution of workload).
Redundancy or resiliency necessarily involves having some capacity that goes unused some of the time so that you can deal with times of higher workload. Cost-cutting is all about getting rid of excess, healthy or not; people making these decisions… might not know or care about the variability of the workload. Or the quality of technical work. Or particularly care about the people doing the work.
It was a great mission but intensely frustrating that our management were blind to the risks threatening the customer relationships, productivity, and integrity of our team, especially given that what we were helping our customers do was… manage risk.
Can I just say, I <3 this analysis.
Now not sure how I feel about that analysis, mainly because… A place where people obfuscate how much they are actually doing to protect themselves from cost-cutting is exhibiting at least one profoundly unhealthy social phenomenon.
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The company I work for (MITRE) is mission-driven and financially viable, but it’s a weird class of business. MITRE is a non-profit that operates Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, supporting different parts of the federal government in a ton of different things. Basically, MITRE becomes embedded in the sponsoring organization, providing whatever technical research, development, and support they need. We don’t make products (we’re actually legally barred from making products), and our sole interest is in serving the needs of the sponsor and the interests of the American people.
Can more mission-driven organizations be financially viable in the long term?
It’s hard to say.
Large corporations used to fill that role, but (a) the bad people drove out the good and (b) the audit cycle became quicker (high-frequency politics) and therefore private-sector R&D is pretty much dead.
Small companies can remain that way if they make it a priority and eschew venture funding until they can take VC while making absolutely no cultural concessions.
It’s an old way of doing business, though, to care about what you are building and what your product or service actually does. It’s an aristocratic mentality that’s viewed as out-of-place by today’s private equity/techie pirates.