Weeknote 11: The link between consultant utilisation and beer! (Week 8, 2018)

Two weeks ago I commented that I was hoping to see Wales beat England in the Six Nations. We put up a good fight but, in the end, Eddie Jones’ team continued their unbeaten record at Twickenham. Then, this week, Manchester City got knocked out of the FA Cup by Wigan, who play in League 1 (the third tier of English football), so it’s not been a good month on the sporting front for me. Still, I have been enjoying the Winter Olympics!

Thankfully, work has been a little more successful – and my return from half-term “holidays” has seen me get properly stuck into my Modern Workplace project (though I do need to step out of it again for a few days next week). I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Microsoft in an “AI envisioning session” today.

On Monday though, I made the journey to Long Eaton, to hear a former colleague and Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer, Ste Nadin (@SteNadinFJ), give his views on “Demystifying DevOps” at the Nottingham and Derby branch of the BCS. I was pleased to hear Ste start his talk by saying that he wouldn’t talk about tools very much (which is good – because culture is far more important in a DevOps strategy) and even more pleased when he used the medium of Lego to bring his presentation to life! Ste also made some interesting observations on measuring utilisation – something that’s close to my heart as a practicing consultant.

Taking a beer glass as an analogy, the glass may be seen as better when it’s fully utilised. Empty is 0% full, a short measure is 80%, and we really want it to be 100% full.

Some people see consultant diaries in that way – aiming to be 100% busy all the time.

But let’s take another analogy – if a road is 100% utilised, that’s not so good – it’s not efficient. With infrastructure (like roads) we don’t really want to fill them to capacity but instead to focus on flow!

So, are people (not resources!) empty vessels to be utilised (like a beer glass) or more like a road where work flows?

I’d argue that I’m not very efficient when I’m filled with beer – and it’s the same when utilisation is driven to 100% for an extended period too!

It all comes down to wait time, which is a fraction of %busy time over %idle time. After about 80% busy-ness (or even business?), wait time really spikes and, as utilisation increases, the ability to respond to change and priority decreases. At 100% there is no flexibility and it’s difficult to prioritise (or respond to business change/demands).

This is shown in the diagram below, described in Nabil Hashmi’s post about The DevOps Handbook (and it reminds me I really must finish reading The Phoenix Project):

Wait time vs percent busy

When I was a business manager (in my role as a Head of Practice when I worked at Fujitsu), my operations manager would ask me why I was forecasting that I would run a “bench”. I didn’t know about wait time then – but I knew I needed some flexibility to cope with unplanned work – not just a team that was maxxed out on planned work.

A consulting business is never constant – we live in a world of peaks and troughs and, whilst someone suggested to me that, during quiet times, Consultants will drink from the proverbial pint pot and that, conversely, they need to fill it up in busy times, that’s not the whole picture. I’m fortunate that my manager understands my limits, my constraints and that I can’t be productive when constantly running at 100% but unfortunately there are many in this industry who don’t see things the same way…

Right. I’m signing off now for what I hope is going to be a relaxing weekend… back soon!

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