Challenging The Math of a Work Week
April 25, 2012 § 46 Comments
I like to color outside of the lines. In business, I feel most comfortable when I am least comfortable. My favorite quote is Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena.” I have patterned my career by this advice. So I love people who break convention too. I am fascinated by them. I celebrate them and defend them from critics…unless what they say is wrong.
Challenging the Math of a Work Week
In this blog post yesterday, Ryan Carson, the CEO of Treehouse, made a compelling argument for a 4-day work week. You should read it. It has some great points. And it would be so awesome if it shifted the dynamics of our society. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend more QT with the kidos? Unfortunately, while there is no doubting his initial success, any company with a culture of a 4-day work week will not stand the test of time against competition. It simply can’t. The math is too overwhelming against it.
Since most development teams are using sprints these days, I will put the math in those terms. We do two-week sprints. For comparison sake, let’s take two companies. Company A (ie Treehouse) works the 9-6, 4-day work week (or 36 hour work week, assuming no lunch). Company B works 9-7 for 5-days and puts in 4 hours on Saturday (or 54 hours). The difference in output (assuming same productivity) is that team B could produce 50% more code. Think about how much your development team accomplishes in a sprint. Now think of the difference in the product between 26 sprints/year and 39 sprints/year. There really is very little in the technology world that can’t be copied. Giving up an extra 13 sprints/year to a competitor is simply unsustainable.
“But Productivity Shouldn’t Be Held Constant!”
One of the key arguments that Ryan makes is that the team is fresh every Monday and thus uber productive. It just feels so good to type that. A self-fulfilling prophesy that feels so good. But the reality is talented people are able to sustain a high level of productivity at long hours. Some of the best engineers in the world work insane hours at Google, Apple and facebook and put out great products.
And The Best Companies are Filled With These Type of People
Sometimes, we get stuck in our own local bubble and we think that we are simply more talented than other people. Our product ideas are so great that we will stay ahead of the competition just by out-thinking them. Early success validates this theory. So you write a blog post proclaiming that you are so much more intelligent than others that you can work 50% less and still kick their ass. You pound your chest, look in the mirror, give yourself a wink and then hit the submit button on your blog. Ahh…it feels so good to be king. And then one day, a competitor comes out of nowhere, and has your same features, for less cost and a few new features that are awesome. And now you are playing catch up. But you will never catch up.
Here is what I believe
One of the biggest benefits of going to a place like Harvard Business School is that you are surrounded by people who are insanely talented. And you realize that while your Mom believes you are the smartest person in the world, you really aren’t. There are so many other people who are wicked smart. And they all work so damn hard. They don’t work 54-hour weeks. They work 70-80 hour weeks. And they sustain that level indefinitely. Holy crap…that is humbling. And as you start thinking about competing with them, you realize that the profits in almost all markets accrue to the top company. As Viper in Top Gun says eloquently, “there are no points for second place.”
So here is what I believe, sustained success is not an accident. You have to be very talented and work very hard.
In the blog post, Ryan argues that he gets to see his kids a lot due to the 4-day work week. And that is awesome! I love my two sons more than anything in the world. I would jump in front of moving train to save my children. There is nothing more valuable to me than my children. And while I selfishly love spending time with them, I also believe that a big part of my responsibility as a father is to train them how to succeed in business. That is the reason that I blog. So that 25+ years from now they have a record of how I think as a business man and hopefully can learn from my lessons. And so here is my best advice to my sons…Be the first guy in the gym and the last to leave!