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I've been working in a large IT company in a 2 man team, for the past 3 years. We are very dedicated and we have a strong image as serious and reliable. Every important development comes our way.

The number of projects has increased and it's getting harder and harder to split our focus between multiple projects (having a high degree of parallelism - and this will start to affect our output eventually).

We've been asking for a team increase, but since we deliver in an acceptable manner, basically we've been told that there is no need, regardless of our stress and overtime.

Now, perhaps I don't know how to properly raise this issue in order to have better odds, so here is my question:

Question: How to properly justify a team increase given that we don't have an output issue? (we are delivering in an acceptable manner for now)


Some additional context information.

A nearby team (of 4 members), whose output is poor, got an additional member.

In terms of importance, my teams products are far more important than the other teams products. This makes it even more frustrating and strange to me (my intuition says: invest where the outcome is good, not vice versa).


My summary of the great content found in the answers:

  • make sure that the extra team member is really needed (which can be achieved by reducing overtime)
  • prepare metrics (e.g.: number of projects, action points per worker, backlog size over time, burndown chart)
  • contact the right people and have metrics prepared
  • 8
    Just to clarify, by "increase" you mean you want another person on the team? I was confused at first because some times, "increase" is assumed to mean salary increase, i.e. raise. I thought you were trying to ask for everyone on the team to get a raise. – dwizum Sep 20 at 17:32
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    Yes, by increase I mean having an additional team member. I don't know what is the better term to describe this. – Claudiu A Sep 20 at 17:35
  • 7
    Is overtime paid, unpaid? – Crosbonaught Sep 20 at 19:03
  • 78
    Just to state the obvious: if you are working overtime, you are not "doing well". Especially since you mention stress in addition to that. Stress is a serious health risk. Our bodies are designed for periods of stress up to a couple of minutes (as long as is required to escape the sabre tooth tiger lurking in the bushes), not 60 hours a week. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 22 at 10:38
  • 29
    But you actually don't need the extra team member. Because you are doing the work. If you stopped making sacrifices for this company that does not make sacrifices for you, then the company would notice you need the extra team member. Stop working overtime. In tech, an "appropriate" amount of overtime is once or twice a year, for a few days at a stretch, to hit a deadline, and that is redlining it. It's a stupid, abusive trope that you need to be constantly working overtime. Stop doing it! – L0j1k Sep 23 at 12:54
14

Contact the right people

  • HR, and there somebody that is truly engaged in wellbeing and has the power drive the change
  • A senior manager that has enough experience and authority
  • The source of the tasks

Do not undervalue soft power. A manager that is not necessarily that senior in the hierarchy can have seniority from the years of working valued, sometimes even connection at the top of the organisation.

Use other metrics to justify your case

  • Overtime
  • Action points per worker
  • Number of projects you are working on
  • People that have left
  • Conversations about different career possibilities raised by the members

Also, remember to have some numbers from history.

Use the right words

  • You are highly concerned about the wellbeing
  • Your team is starting to lose their drive
  • Any buzzword the HR is using for the issue works.

If they see only synonyms they might not recognise it as being important. The words the managers recognise for being held accountable in their scorecards.

  • 1
    I can have a meeting with a manager and I think this list can help me prepare very well. The metrics required are very easy to gather. Thanks! – Claudiu A Sep 20 at 18:00
  • 2
    As has been said many times on this site, HR is not your friend. They are there to keep your company out of legal problems, not to help you with your management problems, unless they will get the company into trouble. Also, skipping rank in your company can get you into trouble, depending on the company's policies. You generally have to "go through channels" to get what you need and there are usually specific policies to apply when those channels break down. The source of the tasks might not be the right person either, since it's your manager's job to dole them out, not the source. – computercarguy Sep 23 at 18:08
  • @computercarguy Ideally HR as a support function helps managers with human resource management. In a large corporation, HR does often help managers. I assume that the OP is the manager/leader and has some HR responsibilities, so I see no skipping channels there. Of course one should always revise the policies as often is said on this site. And it is about how you phrase your need: do you go to HR to complain about actions of others or raise a concern that your team is losing their drive and think that you need support in managing HR things. – user3644640 Sep 24 at 17:40
  • @user3644640, ideally, yes. In reality, that doesn't always/often happen. I read the OPs statements as a line employee, or maybe a team lead at best, but not a manager. A manager would likely have mentioned how they've already talked to upper management about getting another member, how they were denied, and how better to talk to the higher mgmt. The discussion they describe sounds more like with their manager, and that person being OK with the stress and overtime, because it's not them having the stress and working long hours. – computercarguy Sep 24 at 17:52
  • @computercarguy: Yes, I am an employee (as opposed to manager ). Since managers can request additional resources (for opening a new position) I will have to talk to the managers. – Claudiu A Sep 24 at 21:40
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Question: How to properly justify a team increase given that we don't have an output issue? (we are delivering in an acceptable manner already)

Stop working overtime and see if your team can still deliver in an acceptable manner. By working overtime, you are simply adding hours of work to each member of the team, which is not much different than those being the hours worked by a new team member. The downside to working overtime is that you are stressed and probably will eventually burn out. So, stop working overtime and then evaluate if you still need a new team member.

  • 75
    Since a month ago we have just decided to do this - no more overtime - exactly because of burnout. – Claudiu A Sep 20 at 17:38
  • 12
    @ClaudiuA - Do you have metrics showing the growth in your backlog? You want to show what your burndown rate is on average per week, as well as your growth in backlog over time. From there you get points per person, and you will need to show that either the delay is unacceptable (you get this from other teams) or the growth rate in the backlog exceeds about half a person. – Julie in Austin Sep 20 at 19:35
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    Overtime should always be paid... always. Free overtime that does not result in either pay and/or headcount increase is just asking for trouble. – Nelson Sep 21 at 7:19
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    @jww There is no united-states tag on the question, and many countries have paid overtime for salaried workers. – Polygnome Sep 22 at 20:08
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    @jww I don't think that's a counter-example, I think it's just evidence of quite how appalling the labour laws in the USA are... – Chronocidal Sep 22 at 22:47
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A nearby team (of 4 members), whose output is poor, got an additional member.

This is a potential red flag for me. Of course, some of the times, the output deficiency is due to not having enough staff, in which case it makes sense to add headcount and continue monitoring output. But if there's a more general pattern of rewarding poor-performing teams with headcount, while high-performing teams are left to do "hero" work, that's toxic.

Further: Regardless of what's going on with the other team, a work environment that has handwaves away the very real problem of ongoing "heroic effort" is, in itself, toxic. It leads to mistakes & rework, burnout, low morale, turnover, etc., all of which are costly to the business in the long run. Of course, sometimes heroic effort is needed to meet critical deadlines, etc., but working long hours/weekends/etc should be the exception, not the norm.

We've been asking for a team increase, but since we deliver in an acceptable manner, basically we've been told that there is no need, regardless of our stress and overtime.

The way you deal with this is probably in your planning sessions. Assuming you're following some sort of sprint/agile development, commit to reasonable sprint points that don't require heroic efforts (routine after-hours or weekend work). Push back when product owners expect more features to be delivered in a given sprint.

You have past sprints to indicate that your team delivers X points in a 2-week sprint, you can't reasonably deliver X + 20 points in a 2-week sprint. If they insist on increased output, then you have metrics that justify your demand for additional headcount. If this is in flux, then it may be a part-time contractor rather, or maybe you loan someone over from another team/department that has extra bandwidth.

This is a bit of a passive approach, of course. But they've been passively trampling on your acceptance of increased workloads till now. You've unknowingly set expectations that you'll work overtime (if you're salaried, this is probably unpaid and mostly unrecognized, too!) and late nights and weekends to deliver. You need to slowly, but carefully back this expectation down to a more reasonable level.

  • 5
    I'm glad it is a red flag for others as well. We are working Scrum (two man Scrum). I have to check what kind of metrics we can to use. – Claudiu A Sep 20 at 17:43
  • The OP needs to demonstrate that the effort is actually "heroic" and not just "temporarily heavy". There are times when a little pain is to be expected, and a growing team is one of those times. Words like "toxic", "handwaves", "heroic" and "trampling" are usually seen as histrionic and not accurate. Remember - the step from 2 to 3 is 40 more person-hours per week, not 5 or 10. – Julie in Austin Sep 20 at 19:32
  • I agree that it would help OP's case if they can demonstrate that the efforts have been both extraordinary and more than merely "occasional". That may be difficult to do, since salary positions rarely keep detailed logs of hours worked beyond the 40 required to avoid any flags in their HR applications :) Which is why I suggest taking more control over their sprint capacity. – David Z Sep 20 at 20:24
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    Be careful of comparing the 2-man team with the 4-man team. There's usually a lot of fallacy in the arguments that drop out. The arguments made to improve the 2-man team should not depend on the other team. For example, don't say, "they have less work but more men, so we should get an extra man". That's like saying, someone else asked an off-topic question so I should be able to ask one, too. – user25792 Sep 22 at 5:55
  • 1
    @JulieinAustin, if this is an actual long term trend, then the company should start hiring at 5-10 hours more "person hours". Hiring takes time as well as training, so you aren't going to get 40 hrs right away so you might be losing 20-30 hrs a week, instead of just 5-10 by the time you actually hire someone. entrepreneur.com/article/305617 Also, you should look into the "The Mythical Man-Month" to see how your logic based on hours is not correct. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month – computercarguy Sep 23 at 18:03
6

Small teams are harder to justify a new team member because the increase in team size is greater. In your case, you are asking for a 50% increase in team size, relative to that other team which only received a 25% increase in size.

Unfortunately, unless you are consistently working more than 10-20% overtime each, that 50% bump is just going to be hard. What you need to show is that either you just can't handle the workload (it sounds like you can ...) or you are working so much overtime that it isn't sustainable.

The other answers rightly point out that what you're doing is somehow "wrong", but it is really only wrong in the long term and is unsustainable. From your employer's perspective it is better to have 2 employees working 110% than three employees working 75%. Two employees working 120-130% isn't sustainable. You need to quantify how how much you're doing and show that the work load is inappropriate and unsustainable.

Edited to add --

Just to clarify, the OP is in a sticky situation precisely because of the small team size. The only thing harder than adding the second team member is adding the second. An alternative to adding a full-time 3rd member is borrowing someone from another team. That's an approach my various teams have had to use to demonstrate "need".

  • Since the workload increases consistently, it will definitely become unsustainable. I can see a pattern from the answer: "start doing less" and I can see why. – Claudiu A Sep 20 at 17:48
  • 1
    The issue remains -- adding a team member requires demonstrating that the existing team cannot handle it AND that the only solution is a 3rd team member who won't be idle most of the time. That may not be the case today, even if it will be at some point in the future. – Julie in Austin Sep 20 at 19:18
  • +1 "Borrowing" someone from another team might be a good solution if OP's team is only temporarily overworked. And even if it's not a temporary problem, that could be a good compromise that might eventually lead to a permanent 3rd team member. – Llewellyn Sep 22 at 15:44
  • Remind you manager that the team won't be idle, but rather capable of doing more work. Instead of being overworked at 110-120%, they'll be capable for 150% by adding a 3rd person. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy – computercarguy Sep 23 at 18:13
6

You need to determine your actual capacity, make a list of all the tasks with their sizes, show the decision makers that list with a line drawn between what will fit and what won't, and ask them to decide where to cut. It's their job to decide whether it's more important to save money on staffing or to finish more projects. It's your job to make sure they have the necessary information to make that decision.

I know we get emotionally invested in our work. For the most part, that's a good thing. However, businesses are never going to be able to fund everything that developers want to do. There are always going to be trade offs. Personally, if trade offs are inevitable, I want to make sure what actually gets done is what is most valuable to the company. That only gets done if the decision makers have an accurate picture of the costs.

  • This is what have been used in one of my former job and it works pretty well. In the end we didn't hire but it's made clear that not everything will be prioritized and some tasks stayed in the backlogs for years. – Gabriel Mongeon Sep 23 at 14:16
  • Works if the people assigning priorities are sane. In the other case...for example, a software project where users could accidentally input data that would get them into a "stuck" state...fixing it so that users could not get into a stuck state was not prioritized, instead users who got into this stuck state were fixed on an individual basis, which was quicker...at first. Eventually the number of users getting stuck became overwhelming, by then the team had no bandwidth to resolve the underlying problems. – user3067860 Sep 23 at 20:18
3

one of you two should become a parent and leave for a year. you will get a replacement worker and if he does well he can probably stay when the parent comes back.

also: bus factor

btw, if you do scrum on a two person team, you are not doing scrum! :-D show them the scrum guide where it says that a team size below three is not recommendend.

some answers are tackling the problem about workload wrong: if you now work 20% more, you are at 240% capacity. adding another person does not mean you will be each working 80%, more probably is that you will get assigned some more projects until you reach 300% capacity. make sure it stays at 300%!

you could argue that a person added to your team will perform better and more efficient than adding him to another team. you could also borrow people from other teams and make them more efficient. you will have a steady supply of workers if this becomes known.

  • +1: The idea that this team can teach others and yield good developers adds something the other answers did not mention. – Kasper van den Berg Sep 22 at 9:08
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    There is some other aspect to this: teaching and on-boarding a new team member takes time and effort can might disrupt the team's flow and productivity. OP and OP's management might not want this side-effect. I hope some answer sheds light on this aspect. – Kasper van den Berg Sep 22 at 9:15
  • If you have one person only, you can do scrum without any problems. Don't throw things around like "if you are doing X, you are not doing scrum". If you blindly follow rules, you are not doing scrum. – gnasher729 Sep 24 at 22:56
1

You are concerned that it may be or seem unnecessary to hire a new team member as long as your current output is fine.

Let me clarify what this implies: Additional personal only gets hired AFTER problems have arisen. Meaning in some way there has already been damage to your team, some budget, some relation to a customer, product quality etc. THEN you START SEARCHING for new IT-personal.

Let me also walk you through the common process of hiring IT-personal: According to a recent article published in Handelsblatt (in Germany) the process of hiring IT staff is one of the longest across all sectors, taking in the mean around 200 days from planning a position, then publishing, assessing candidates etc. Taking considerably longer if you are looking for talent which is highly specialized, knowledge of niche-technologies, searching for rather unpopular stacks of technology etc. Also mind you, that your overall attractiveness as an employer can play a heavy role in this process. IT is part of the MINT-sciences. MINT graduates are recruited by all lines of business, meaning there is heavy competition which is why some companies I worked with there unable to fill IT-positions for well over a year until the lack of man-power caused significant damage to the companies processes and the same positions where offered with increased salary. And just from my personal experience: Some positions still took well over 100 additional days to fill, even with increased salary. Some took a whole deal of negotiating other benefits like home office, sabbatical etc, since especially younger professionals are expecting more than just money these days.

To sum it all up: If you are not working for a well renowned company with a modern appeal, you might find it difficult to recruit new MINT-talent within, let’s say, 150 days. So, you definitely do not want to start with this process AFTER things have already gone south, but well in advance when there are clear indicators, that the workload is too much for your current team-size and will stay this way for the foreseeable future.

  • 1
    Your example is more relevant than you know. The company I work for is mostly German and the hiring issues are similar to what you describe. – Claudiu A Sep 23 at 19:34

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