The Mythical Man-Month Is True for On Time Projects Too

The Mythical Man-Month Is True for On Time Projects Too
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I love the book The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks. It explains that adding more people to a late software project only serves to makes it later.

I can confirm that this is true. It’s a myth to think that throwing bodies at a problem can solve the problem. Instead, identifying the root cause of the issue is often the more effective approach.

However, did you know that adding more people to a software project that is actually running on time can result in making the project late too?

Here’s how:

  • Startup raises $40M Series B funding.
  • Startup hires 30 developers, doubling the capacity of its team.
  • The team commits to investors to deliver 2x the output.
  • Velocity and quality suffer, and no one can figure out why.

Want to know why?

Team efficiency decreases.

The bigger a team gets, the more complex its communication becomes. Trust and healthy conflict become harder because there are more people on the team, each with their own goals and opinions. And, the more complex the team’s communication becomes, the harder it is to have a high functioning team. While individuals on a team may be humming away, the efficiency of the entire team often suffers, and results in missed deadlines, low morale and low quality code.

So, instead of adding a dozen engineers to your software project rapidly, focus on slow and steady growth and prioritize team efficiency.

How? It’s not easy, but it is possible to improve team efficiency over time. Do these things to start:

  • Have the team read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. He talks about the importance of trust and healthy conflict as the foundation of a high functioning team that gets stuff done.
  • Measure team trust. It’s the foundation of everything else. Measure trust by literally asking the team once per quarter - “On a scale of 1-10, how high do you think our team trust is?” Answers will be anonymous. Calculate the average, and then record the average over time. If you average anything less than a 7, have a team discussion about it. Ways to improve team trust include doing fun outings together like Escape the Room, and having each team member grab coffee with other team members 1:1.
  • Get a business coach. This is not an executive coach, rather it’s a person that focuses on team health. Very often, it is extremely hard for the team to accurately assess their team health, because you are in the weeds, day to day. It’s much easier for someone outside the weeds to have a more grounded perspective of how things are going.

And then, as you feel you have a nice level of trust and healthy conflict, go ahead and scale your team by hiring new employees onto it. Just be realistic about the amount of effort and energy that it will take for reform and iterate on becoming and staying a high functioning team as you continue to scale.

For an in-depth deep dive into how to improve team communication, check out our ebook on improving team communication with 5 easy steps.

Debbie Madden

Debbie Madden

Founder & Chairwoman

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