Staffing on up

The Mythical Man-month is 40 years old. It’s a timeless classic for software development management and its pages are often condensed into Brooks’s Law:

“Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”

It’s a hard Natural Law. There is no escape. No, not even your project that is the one exception.

When I switched from Developer to Project Manager, I was naively convinced that all of my colleagues knew this law. How can you lead a software project if you don’t? Turns out there’s a high correlation between a PRINCE2 certificate and not having read the MMM.

In fact, adding more manpower to a late project seems to be the weapon of choice for corporate managers. That’s crazy!

Why do corporate managers love upstaffing? Because it’s the easiest pitch to their stakeholders. There are three sides to the Iron Triangle and two of them are taboo. Scope cutting is considered a weakness. Postponing a deadline is a capital offence. Spending more money? The safe choice! Throwing a bag of cash at the problem allows you to buy your way out of a tough decision.

Upstaffing is a cartoon solution to a badly understood problem. It’s the equivalent of loading the trunk of your car with jerrycans so you can drive further. It’s an idea for Wile E. Coyote, not for a professional manager.

A good manager convinces her stakeholders to either cut scope or push forward the deadline. Smart stakeholders are happy to support her in that.

Is there never a reason for upstaffing then? Off course there is: When the team asks for it.

Upstaffing should be bottom-up, not top-down.

Before you think of adding more manpower to fix your delivery, re-read that book and ask yourself: can’t we build less?


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