Increasing headcount is probably not the answer!


I’m incredibly irritated by tech people using headcount as a reason for their problems. From my experience, throwing bodies at problems is rarely the correct answer.

Increasing headcount only makes sense if:

  • You understand the problem.
  • You’ve defined the corrective actions.
  • You have processes in place to make new people productive quickly.

If you don’t understand the problem, and don’t already have a plan for solving it, hiring a load of people isn’t going to help you. It can actually make things worse. At best they will sit around and do nothing. At worst, they will start working and come up with a bunch of random “solutions” to your problems, which can leave you in a worse position than you started. Supporting a bunch of random crap is no fun at all.

My first job was a great example of doing things the right way.

  • The company signed a new customer. The software was used to track drug trials. Each trial had a unique identifier. The customer wanted to be able to refer to trials using the unique identifier, or a free text alias. This meant adding a trial alias to loads of screen in the application. There was also a need to upgrade the whole application from Forms 3.0 to Forms 4.0.
  • The analysis was done. Two procedures were defined and documented. One procedure gave directions on performing the upgrade. One procedure gave directions on adding the trial alias to the forms that needed it.
  • In addition to the existing workforce, the company hired four new people. Two were computer science graduates. Two, including me, were not. None of us had previous Oracle Database or Oracle Forms experience. After some basic training, we were put to work upgrading the forms and adding in the trial alias code.
  • It worked fine, because despite us being not much more than trained monkeys, the prerequisites had been put in place to allow someone with a PhD in cabbage sex to be a productive member of the team. There were no major blockers or constraints to deal with.

I’ve also seen it done the wrong way a bunch of times, but I’m not going to go there as it’s too depressing, and the people and companies involved will recognise themselves…

There are situations where bodies can help, but randomly throwing people at something is not a great solution if you’ve not put in the necessary effort up front to make it work. You should also be asking how many of the tasks should really be automated, so humans can be allocated to something more meaningful. In these cases, even if extra bodies could work, your focus should be on solving the root cause, not papering over the cracks.

When I discuss headcount, or throwing bodies at a problem, I could be talking about hiring more permanent staff, temporary staff or outsourcing projects. There is a lot to be said for the old saying, “You can’t outsource a problem!”, but it could easily be, “You can’t headcount a problem!” 🙂



Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.