Monday, February 2, 2009

What is Work? 3 Levels of Work

Physics defines:
Work = (Force or Energy) * (Distance)

In the work world, it means we must apply energy to something and move it in the direction the business needs it to go.  If we take the simple example of building a building, hopefully I can articulate my three levels clearly.

3 Levels of Work
  1. Work - This is energy applied to building the building.  For example: digging foundations, putting up girders, building walls etc.
  2. Support Work - This is energy applied to things which are necessary to build the building, but they do not infact help building the building.  For exmple: buying insurance, filing government paperwork, corporate negotiations, buying office supplies etc.
  3. Make Believe - This is energy applied to things that are not involved in building the building or in support of building the building.  People might make believe this is necessary to building buildings, but infact it is not necessary.  
How can you tell if what you're doing is work, support work or make believe?

Imagine there's a dail that measures how complete the building is.  Before the building starts and before anything happens, the dial is at zero.  When the building is completed and ready for people to walk in the door, the dial is at one hundred.  You measure the amount of work you actually do by how much you move that dial from zero to one hundred.

If, no matter how much energy you apply, you are not moving the dial or supporting someone moving the dial, then you are doing make believe.  

If the energy you apply moves the dial, then you are doing work.

If the energy you apply supports or enables someone to do work, then you are doing support work.

Are you moving the dial and working or supporting or are you make believing?


Pawel Brodzinski said...

Using your definition management, including most of project management, is making believeing. And that's the tricky part since it's easy to pretend you do the work and do nothing. No simple criteria to verify how much work has been done.

Andrew Meyer said...


I agree with you. It depends upon the situation and what's involved. Some PM work can be important support work, but a lot of it is make believe.

Hopefully, if it's make believe you're being paid by the hour and you have a back up plan if the job goes away.

Josh said...

Thought-provoking post! Let me throw something else in here. Let's not forget that moving the dial to 100 doesn't do any good if you're turning the wrong dial.

Another dimension added by a good PM and/or BA is uncovering those unstated requirements and in general assuring the customer is happy with the end product.

I'd probably use the analogy of a project turning many different dial simultaneously, one for each stakeholder group and their specific needs.

Josh Nankivel