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What's Your Handicap?


By heath - Posted on 11 April 2006

Second to "How are you," this may be the most asked question on a golf course. What if people asked you about your handicap at work. I am not talking about something for which you might be sued. I am talking about your work handicap.

In my thinking about project management, I have wandered upon the idea of a handicap system for programmers and maybe even for everyone in a company. When employees are on salary, many times, there is little incentive to do your best work beyond "the good of the company" or pride in your work. Sometimes you just need more than that.

I am thinking about adding two possibilities. One is the calculation of a handicap base on how quickly you get your work done. If you follow one of the agile methodologies, you can control quality with testing and metrics. If you don't do those things, you might need to find a way to add quality to the handicap. The handicap introduces another level of pride in your work and maybe even some friendly competition. It might also give you a basis for incentive programs.

Secondly, I have thought about introducing a work week based on production hours instead of clock hours. This would be how "par" was set for the handicap. You might decide based on your own project tracking history that 25 budgeted project hours were all an average programmer could accomplish in a week. So you set that as par. Then, if people want, they can go home after they have completed 25 project hours. If they want to improve their handicap, they can stay and work more.

There are two requirements for the handicap system is good management of project requirements. You would have to make sure that new work was not just slipped into someone's workload without an adjustment in the budget. You would also need good, objective budgeting practices.

However, I think those are necessary parts of a well run project anyway. I can't see how a company would lose. Employees gain three new incentives: time, pride-in-work, and fun competition. They company gains an objective method for rewarding exceptional employees. After all, do companies pay people for the hours they spend inside the building or for the work they are doing while there.

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Sounds like a pretty good idea. Managers it seems do have a difficult task of tracking employee performance in software engineering, this could be a useful idea. As you mentioned, you would need to calibrate the handicap per project and probably per system, since systems can vary in difficulty.

How could the idea of handicap be put into practice for managers, leads, CEOs etc?

I think extending it to all areas would be an interesting practice. It would allow comparisons between diverse areas of the business.

Usually CEOs are measured by finanial statements. Managers might be measured by how accurate they predict a project. These could all be standardized.

The good think about a handicap is that it is a comparison to peers and to historical performance. A +2 handicap golfer would have the same ability relative to his peers as a +2 programmer.

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