People Crucial to IT Development Performance

by Nov 30, 2019Nucleon0 comments

When considering IT development performance, the most important aspect is people. The human element is by far the most performance-generating factor in your entire setup. Unfortunately, if you want to measure performance quantitatively, assigning a number to people is problematic.

In the 90s, I worked for Amdahl, a now-defunct organization that built huge IBM-compatible mainframes and software systems to go along with them. Within fourteen days of my hire, one of our biggest customers came to us with capacity issues. They’d already dedicated the best of their own senior systems engineers to th issue with no success, and everything pointed to the machine having reached its maximum capacity level.

Though they concluded they would have to invest in a very expensive upgrade, they came to us to see what solutions Amdahl offer.

Instead of a team of engineers or a comprehensive and expensive service solution, our Support Manager sent one man, Peter, and me as the new guy to watch and gain experience.

Peter spent the entire weekend camped out near the central control unit. He worked on those huge mainframes while I watched in awe and fetched coffee. In one weekend he changed the system’s parameters and freed up 15% of capacity!

The customer postpone an expensive upgrade.

That was the moment I realized that a top performer can have a tremendous impact, and that some people simply perform much better than others at certain tasks.

Throughout my career this pivotal discovery reinforced several times.

the CIO of a big Scandinavian bank retired and joined 7N as a management consultant. I had a welcome-board coffee with him and asked if he felt he’d transitioned his 2,500-person IT organization to his successor well. “Yes,” he said. “I gave him a list of the 100 names he couldn’t afford to lose, and he understood the value of that list.”

My immediate reaction was to ask, “What about the other 2,400 employees?” His reply was brisk and businesslike: “They can be replaced relatively easily. But the 100 named individuals are the ones who drive the development of the bank.”

I was part of a business delegation on an international excursion and met with the founder of a large music streaming service. I asked him: “You have disrupted an entire industry with your software and solution platform. How many of your developers would you say have made the major difference on your journey?” He told me that the two thousand developers he employed, there were about fifty for whom he always made time and who he believed were truly outstanding and the real heroes driving progress and technology.

Fifty out of two thousand?

The insight I have gained from working with Peter, the Scandinavian bank’s retired CIO and the founder of the music streaming provider has helped me understand how much an organization’s total productivity is driven by its top-tier performers.

I have learned that there’s a difference between being equal in worth as humans and being particularly good in a specific area of competence.

When I set out to determine what drives performance, I recalled those past anecdotes. I knew intuitively that the difference in performance was likely a matter of the ratio of super achievers on each team, wanted to know how much better these super achievers perform and how much more they produce when compared to others on the team. I immersed myself in research.

Though I had anticipated there would be a significant difference, the actual numbers were remarkable. At 7N we have always assessed people by assigning a numerical category from 1 to 10: the lowest-level performers are a 1 and the top performers are 10s. My research in performance revealed, conservatively that 10s, who are the top 1% of all IT professionals in a normal statistical distribution, perform at a level that is almost greater than that of the next level’s performers who we call 9s and who typically represent the top 3% of a population.

Going further down the line, 10s perform at a level that is twenty times greater than that of an average IT specialist level of performance. 10s are at a level that is one hundred times greater than that of individuals classified as 1s. The performance curve was exponential! Allow me to substantiate further:

The former head of development of a large global ERP-systems provider told me that the top 1% of his developers performed 80 times better than average.

  • In an interview Twitter’s former CEO Dick Costolo said that he believed the top 1% performs 50-100 times better than the average developer.
  • TopGrading, an organization specializin human performance and measurement, states that the top 1% perform 28 times better than average.
  • Apple believes the top 1% perform 25 times above the average specialist.
  • Google beats them all by claiming that the top 1% performs at a level 300 times above the average developer.

There are a lot of opinions about this. Though the numbers may differ, the bottom line remains the same: whether you believe that the multiplier is 28, 50, 80 or 300, having top performers on a team makes a remarkable difference in an IT department’s performance.

In the Nucleon formula, I have chosen to go with our own more conservative numbers because they confirm our observations and suggest that a 10 performs 20 times better than an average employee.

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In the book Nucleon, Jeppe Hedaa introduces the first formula to measure the factors that hold back an organization’s IT performance, along with the most impactful areas for improvement.