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