Negative Productivity

Would you rather have a team of three excellent programmers or 15 with average ability? Most programmers would want the team of three, but most managers I suspect would pick the larger team. There’s plenty of support for the idea that the excellent-to-average productivity ratio is at least five, but you occasionally hear, “Well, I could believe two or three times as productive, but five or ten…?”

What’s more, software isn’t just about programming; you need someone to decide what to program. Business Analyst types have their own productivity ratios which are even higher than programmers. Partly this is because their effect is magnified by the size of the team, but also because they can so easily go backwards; they reduce the value of the software they touch.

A good example is the Alt-Tab behaviour in Windows Vista. Since the dawn of time – or at least Windows 3.1 – the window which pops up when pressing Alt-Tab has been comfortingly simple:

Alt-Tab in XP

But Microsoft and Simple are no longer on speaking terms. In Vista the window has been polluted with little screenshots like this:

Alt-Tab in Vista

The time it takes to recognise the window you want is critical. Any longer than a fraction of a second and you will start to forget why you wanted to switch in the first place. Humans have evolved to immediately distinguish objects with different colour and shape – which makes the original use of icons perfect for the task. But now these icons struggle for impact, competing with (mostly grey and white) screenshots.

Perhaps there was a Business Analyst in Redmond who worried the Mac OSX dock with its little screenshots looked better than the Windows taskbar. Or maybe she ran out of useful functionality to add to Windows. Or maybe she was talked into it by programmers who thought it would be ‘cool’. However it happened, a heap of effort was expended but reduced the value of the software. That’s Negative Productivity.

  1. Harry Wood says:

    Oh I quite like mini-screenshots. If the same application is open in many different windows, then showing the application icon becomes considerably less useful. But this may be due to my insistence on *not* using browser tabs. Mind you it’s the same problem if you open five different word documents right?

    I say all this, but actually if your computer’s started to run a bit slowly (which just seems to happen on windows after about 6 months) then fluffy graphical features start taking painfully long to load up. The ‘Add/Remove’ programs dialog was always the best one for that. “Please just show me the f**g list, and load the pretty bits later!!!”

    I’m on ubuntu now though << definitely the way to go, and easier than I expected

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