Getting the best from a team seems to be a common theme for me at the moment. I have written previously about the differences between efficiency and effectiveness. In that post I highlighted that striving for efficiency only does not always guarantee success.

Another aspect is overhead. Reducing overhead may make people feel that they are being more efficient but as before it doesn’t always make the team more effective. Likewise moving from next to no overhead to some may made people feel less efficient but it can sometimes mean the group is more effective.

The best way to describe this is through a couple of diagrams.

overhead 1

Here there is no overhead. There is one person performing a task. They are interpreting the input, doing some work in the best way they can and then compiling the output. From input to output the work takes a finite amount of time.

overhead 2

When you ask three people to do the same task there must be coordination.This is overhead.  This is represented in red in the diagram.

At first the group needs to understand the task and agree an approach. During the work they may have to check back with each other. This communication takes time. Sometimes an individual may not get an immediate response so they have to wait. They are blocked. Over time the group works together finally compiling the output. If you look closely the same task took three people slightly longer than one.


There was more overhead, more waiting around which makes three people else effective than one.

overhead 3

Agile frameworks such as Scrum accept there needs to be some overhead to enable the team to work together. However it arranges the overhead in blocks which should enable the team work more efficiently between them. The theory goes that you are accepting some overhead to make the team more effective. You are trading off individual efficiency for the greater good.

The key is adapting the overhead for a particular situation. That means tuning the sprint length, deciding what you actually need to do as a group in your sprint planning. The other aspect is to measure, inspect and adapt your ways of working to see if it possible to be even more effective.


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