The measure of a man (or woman) hour.
Today, I want to talk about man hours, the act of creation, and the big bang theory. But I’ll only talk about man hours.
Many are not aware of the difference between an hour, a man hour, and a woman hour. So, let’s address that first.
An HOUR is a collection of 60 minutes. Usually consecutive. Actually, always consecutive, and this is important as you will later see. Henceforth I dub thee: “Clock Hours.”
A MAN hour is an hour filled with grunts on a sofa, one hand half down the pants and a beer in the other, lots of belching, and screaming aimlessly at the TV when the ref totally misses a call. “Oh C’MON REF!! BAD CALL!!…” usually followed by unprintable expletives.
A WOMAN hour is only slightly less known. This can be easily consumed going to get ready for a night out on the town — like ballet for example (a direct affront to the aforementioned man). Now, I don’t really know exactly what goes on in there for an hour, but I do know she comes out looking fantastic, so I try not to complain. Inside every woman is an artist. It’s just that some take a little longer to express themselves.
A Terrible Compromise
This whole confusion between man and woman hours caused us to come up with a new term to describe “a unit of production equal to the work one person can produce in an hour.” But we don’t call it work hour or anything useful and understandable. We maintain a gender neutral tone, and we call it a “Person Hour.” This is somehow less offensive than “Man Hour.” We originally didn’t go with “Woman Hour” because it was too long to say. Man Hour was much more efficient (taking 33% less time to grunt). Now, we say “Person Hour” which is even worse.
All that said, and on a more serious note, I’m going to say “Work Hour”, which means “Man Hour”, “Person Hour”, and “A unit of production equal to the work one person can produce in an hour.” “Work Hour” — it means what is says, and it says it in 33% less time…
What is a Work Hour?
So, what is a work hour? What does it mean to say we spent 3 work hours on a work package? What does it mean when we estimate “40 Hours of Project Management?”
Whenever we spend time working on a project, we are using people’s time to achieve a goal. In Project Management, we have a project with an overall goal that we break down into smaller goals called “Work Packages” and then those are broken down into even smaller goals called “Tasks” and “Milestones”. Tasks each have a certain amount of time it takes to complete them. Milestones are a beautiful momentous occasion worthy of celebration… like “Internal Quality Check Sign-Off.” See? Easily a beer right there.
Bring it Home, G.
Let’s look at a typical design review meeting. After our designer has spent several creative hours (“Creative Hour” is a topic for a different day) working up initial design mockups, we review them internally to ensure they meet our own high standards and our client’s expectations. Let’s say there are 3 different designs, and 2 levels (home page and secondary page). That’s 6 designs that must be reviewed. Participating in this meeting are the designer(s), the project manager, and the Creative Director. We’ll assume only 3 people for now, but for larger projects we frequently have more than one designer to ensure we capture different perspectives. If each design takes 15 minutes to review, critique, make notes on, and make suggestions for improvement (and this is a conservative average), then we have absorbed 1.5 Clock Hours out of our 24 hour day. However, that is not the cost to the company. The actual cost of that meeting is “Clock Hours” X “Number of People Working.” Therefore, in this one meeting that lasted 1.5 Clock Hours, there are actually 4.5 Work Hours consumed.
That’s right — 4.5 Work Hours to review 6 different designs. So, if we keep numbers simple and value $100/hr per person’s time, that one meeting to review 3 different design templates 2 levels deep cost $450.
This same thing happens in your own company. Even if you aren’t calculating it, it’s happening.
Another Almost Laughable Example. Almost.
I worked for a Global Fortune 500 company prior to this. I was in meetings ALL. THE. TIME. Well, one of those times involved the review of an internal “productivity message” with the senior executive team. There were 3 guys all getting paid north of $500,000, CEO over $800,000 (these are all “AT LEAST” figures), then 7 of us with one person presenting. Each of us made 6 figures. This meeting lasted an hour. Obviously, the hourly rate is much higher in this case, especially considering all the other massive expenses (facilities, plush offices, insurance, telepresence and other high end technology). Let’s be nice and make the average rate about $300. It was probably closer to $400 including all other supporting expenses. Now, let’s discuss the actual cost of just one 1 Clock Hour meeting.
10 people X 1 Clock Hour = 10 Work Hours. 10 Work Hours X $300/hr = $3000.
- Meeting on “Mundane Topic”: $3000.
- Full realization that corporate life was draining my soul? > 6 years.
- Freedom from bondage? Priceless.
So when we say 40 hours of Project Management or 120 Hours of Development, you know it’s not one person sitting at a desk happily twiddling their thumbs. They are busy coordinating with many other people, sometimes more than 5 at once, and this is time that adds up very quickly.
So always remember: no company will ever quote you project cost based on Clock Time; it’s always based on Work Time (or Value). And if you are lucky enough to be a defense contractor working with the US government, well… you can also include materials like a $20,000 Pentel mechanical pencil. Hey relax — it needed special security clearance! (And it’s just taxpayer money anyway).
Now, make some room on the couch. The Stanley Cup’s on and I’ve got plenty to be screaming about. And right now, it’s not the refs…
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