Resourcer – Integrating project tasks and workforce utilisation into Statusnet

This post will describe Resourcer, an extension to Statusnet that’s designed to provide more useful information to large organisations.

Here’s what lead me to think of this idea. I was in a ‘virtual’ team working on a large project. This virtual team consisted of two Business Analysts and a Project Manager on one part of a floor, one and a half Developers on another part of a different floor, a System Administrator on a different part of the same floor as the Developers, and three Testers in a far away part of the same floor as the Developers, an Enterprise Architect on a completely different floor, and a Solution Architect on the same floor as the Business Analysts in his own separate room.

In other words, we had a team of a lot of people, only three of which could talk to each other immediately.

The communication in the project didn’t work really well because people were split up to sit next to similar people, i.e. Business Analysts next to Business Analysts, Testers next to Testers.

One thing I remember was the Solution Architect spending half a day trying to download an application he needed to do his job. He was on contract @ $200 an hour, so four hours wasted was $800 wasted. If I’d have known that, I could have downloaded that file for him, since I had the rights within the organisation to do so. If he had known that, he could have contacted me.

So what happened was he didn’t know what I was doing and what I could do, and I didn’t know what he was doing, and what he needed.

Statusnet sorts this out, which is great.

But it still doesn’t tackle the problem of what was the Solutions Architect to do during this four hours? During this time, his utilisation (i.e. how busy he was) was low, which was great. That means if someone else in the organisation needed a Solutions Architect for four hours, he could have booked him right? Well no, since no one knew he was free for four hours.

People use their calendars to book meetings and time to do things, but this normally happens once a week in a planning session, and certainly isn’t real time. Imagine all the resources that could be freed up if people actually said what they were doing in real time, and how busy they were doing this. That would allow Developers to see if any other Developers are tackling the same problem, and also to find out if any Developers are busy enough to come help them out with this problem.

So this is Resourcer. Resourcer does a few different things:

  1. Helps people communicate ideas with each other (Statusnet does this now, as does Yammer);
  2. Helps people become aware of how busy everyone else is;
  3. Helps managers plan the workload for their workforce;
  4. Does timesheeting by stealth.

Resourcer has an additional field for each task – utilisation. This is simple, and made up of a traffic light:

  1. Green – I’m available to help others;
  2. Yellow – I’m quite busy, but if it’s urgent I can help;
  3. Red – I’m very busy and can’t be disturbed.

So imagine our team, the two Business Analysts would be green, the Project Manager would be red, the Developers Yellow, the Testers Green, the Solutions Architect Green, the Enterprise Architect Red, and the Systems Administrator Red. This is for a particular slice in time.

The real power for the organisation is to then view aggregates of this information. This project as a whole may be Yellowish-green. Busy to not so busy. All Business Analysts as a whole in the organisation could be Green. The IT Department as a whole could be reddish-yellow. The whole organisation as a whole could be red.

And this is for any slice of time. If you take many slices, you could then plot how busy your workforce is over time.

So for the life of a project, you could view how busy your Business Analysts are – busy at the start, not so much in the middle, and a burst at the end.

So why can’t we do this now?

  1. There is no current method of finding out how busy people are – apart from things like timesheets. And we all know that time != effort. Just because I’m spending a lot of time on a project doesn’t mean I’m busy.
  2. Project managers may collect task-based statistics of how people are going, but this happens once, and is really a Project Manager’s guess.

I said that Resourcer does timesheeting by stealth, and it does. Here’s how:

  1. People enter what they’re doing, and how busy they are doing it.
  2. People do this so that others in the organisation can see what they’re doing, and to ask for help, and to communicate.
  3. People repeat step 1 again and again.
  4. The time taken between tasks done is the length of time to achieve that task.
  5. Timesheets done. Aggregate the amount of time people spent on tasks to see how much time people spent in a day working on tasks.

Even better than a timesheet, you could see how busy someone was throughout the day working on different tasks – all with the goal of improving efficiency.

So why would people tell the truth? If I’m not busy throughout the day, my boss might think I’m slack, and fire me.

Well that’s true – but let’s think of an example of this.

  • If an employee is not busy – they are not productive.
  • They could say they were busy all the time, but the a manager would assign more resources to that task, and the fraud would be uncovered.
  • If an employee is free, this is the manager’s problem for not having work that needs to be done or communicated, and perhaps shows that that project could share resources with another project that needs those resources.

I’ll admit that managers could use this tool as an iron fist to ensure that people are red all the time – but that’s not productive either. Work ebbs and flows, as people complete tasks and have roadblocks. This tool shows managers what those roadblocks are, and provides employees with the means to solve them themselves – by finding others in the organisation who could help.

That’s my idea – sorry if this post is a bit of a ramble and all over the place, but I wanted to brain dump this.