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Buffer Gone Awry

Assume that you’re a manager enveloped within the predicament below. On a daily basis, you’re trying to coordinate bug fixes and new feature additions to your product while simultaneously getting hammered by internal and external customers with problem reports and new feature requests.

In order to reduce your workload and increase productivity, your meta-manager decides to add a “buffer” manager to filter and smooth out the customer interface side of your job. As the left side of the figure below shows, the hope is that the team’s increased productivity will offset the doubling of overhead costs associated with adding a second manager to the mix. However, when your customers find out that they now have two managers to voice their problems and needs to, the situation on the right develops: your workload remains the same;  you now have an additional interface with the buffer manager (who has less of a workload than you);  the overhead cost to the org doubles. Bummer.

  1. Ray
    February 3, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Isn’t this an off shoot of the Mythical Man Month. Creating more communication paths so that people have to communicate the same information to more people. There by slowing down the work done.

    This true unless the new reporting path is a sales path that would get more work, so that it is a positive effect of increasing sales.

    • February 3, 2010 at 10:47 am

      Yeah, that could be another way of thinking about it. MMM warned against the dangers of adding more engineers to a late project. This derivative warns about adding more managers to a project – early or late 🙂

  2. Ray
    February 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    It is an interesting dichotomy. Stakeholders want communication that allows them to feel that progress is being made or have an idea that they know the status of the project. But the more you communicate the more it takes away from getting the project done.

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