I noticed a disturbing retrospective note on the team’s whiteboard last week.  Under “not well” was written “not enough resources”.  I quickly crossed out ‘resources’ and wrote ‘people’ above it.  That raised a good chuckle with the team.

I’ve seen this time and again.  There’s too much to do, not enough time to do it, too many priorities, not enough resour…er people to do the work and so on.  This is probably why so many recruitment postings on Linked In and elsewhere have “NEEDED ASAP!!!!!!!” next to them.

What’s really going on?  Is everything really all that hard to do?  Do you really need more people?Before you open up that hiring requisition, take a look at the work you are doing and figure out why you think you need more people.  Common challenges I see are:

  • in-ability to prioritize
  • un-willingness to prioritize
  • not knowing how to prioritize
  • LOTS of waste in the system including (but not limited to!)
    • doing work you don’t need to do
    • too many useless meetings
    • too much work in progress (which makes it seem like nothing is getting done which leads you to think you need more people instead of lower WIP)
    • lots of technical debt (again, which makes stuff take longer to get done which leads you to believe more people is the answer)

These are only a few of the reasons organizations *think* they need to hire more people.  Here are some tips for figuring out what’s really going on so you can use data to support the hiring decision.

1) Make a list of all the work your organization, team or department is doing.

2) Prioritize the list using a simple system (do now, do next, do later, don’t do ever)

3) If you need more filtering (and you probably will, everything MUST BE DONE NOW right?), use another filter to score what needs to be done.

A simple way to filter the work further is to start with one piece of work.  Write it on a sticky and stick it halfway up the wall.  Write down the next issue and decide if it’s more or less important.  Avoid deciding on multiple issues being of the same importance!  Repeat that until you’ve gone through the list and there’s your set of ranked priorities.

I worked for a healthcare company where they chose 5 criteria including age of issue, who the client was and a few other factors.  We also used a wildcard criteria that assessed the risk of a medical error which trumped all other criteria.  We got the idea from  Michael Lant’s post on prioritization.

4) Gain consensus on using this process. Chances are someone in the organization, department or team is going to get yelled at when something doesn’t get done so it’s important to be aligned.  It’s also important that the people who need to be aware of this system are aware of it as to set proper expectations about how the work is going to get done.

5) Make the list VISIBLE.  This is important and ties into #4.  Once you have alignment on handling the work, make it visible because more than likely even though you gained consensus, when a manager gets yelled at by executives for work not getting done they are probably going to forget about the agreement.

Going through these 5 simple steps is a great way to start the conversation about why you think you need more people.  As I mentioned above, there are many more causes that surface this symptom and I usually observe it’s a lack of prioritization that leads to the conclusion.

Above all else, talk with the people doing the work.  Executives and managers are usually the people that aren’t satisfied with how much work is getting done and since they control the hiring processes they just go and do it.  Get together with the team and talk about what’s preventing work from getting done before hiring someone.  After all, if you’re at the point where the job posting needs “OMG ASAP!!!!!” on it, you’re in much deeper trouble than you think.