Don’t call people resources

The term “resources” is used in a lot in plans, reports, meetings, and official communication. Most often people are meant when someone says resources. I propose to call them by their name and don’t call people resources!

People are wonderful creatures. They have characteristics that distinguish them from other animals, such as thinking in plans, policies, and strategies. They first think about something and once they figured it out then do it. Which is a great thing.

Unfortunately, to do this thinking abstract terms are often used. Resources is one of them. For a manager, a “resource” is something you need to “execute” your plan, policy, or strategy. That’s fine, but not when people are involved. They are not resources, and you shouldn’t execute them.

People are not resources

In plans, people often talk about resources. There are so many systems and networks needed, and we need xx FTEs to do the work: developers, testers, team and project leaders, etc.

There is nothing wrong with mapping out what is needed in a plan, but if that same way of thinking is extended to the implementation and execution of the plan, problems often arise.

People are not machines, they are not a “resource” that works 40 hours a week. Their experience and skills vary and matter. They have different qualities. All developers are not the same, you cannot just replace a developer with another one.

As most organizations are working agile, software is often developed in teams consisting of people. Preferably those teams are self-organized, able to plan and do their work. When people work together in effectively in teams, the whole (the team) is more than the sum of the parts (the people). They are not teams of xx resources, stop calling them that way.

Plans are nothing, people are everything

In software development, there are often plenty of plans to develop products, organize work, and carry it out. These plans are about the why, when, how, and what’s needed. When we talk about what we need and use the term resource, then we risk forgetting that we are dealing with people. That doesn’t work, literally.

It can be challenging to fit people into fixed roles or functions defined in your plans. The skills people have actually often exceed roles or functions. Most managers prefer to have people who have a T-shaped skill set, people with skills that are very useful to develop a product or run a project, even if they do not fit directly with a specific function.

Do not treat your employees as resources but as people, as professionals. Take time to get to know them and you will see that your plans will work out better.

Invest in people

Another way of thinking is necessary, a mindset shift from resources to people. If you want to consider your employees as professional people, treat them professionally. Understand what drives them and keep them involved in the mission of the company. Give them room to develop, learn from mistakes, and grow.

We often place high demands on our people, but then we forget to make it possible for them to meet them. Let give them opportunities, space, and time, to build up sufficient knowledge and experience. There are so many ways to achieve this, where many of them do not cost much at all.

Powerful practices like agile retrospectives, root cause analysis, and communities or practices, can ensure that your people continuously learn from each other and become better in their profession. There are many professional networks in which professionals can share knowledge and experiences, participation often costs little or nothing, and you get a lot back.

Workshops and conferences stimulate people and provide the means for developing or deepening knowledge. An additional advantage of continuous learning is that people communicate more with each other and as we all know, timely frequent communication can prevent a lot of trouble.

I propose that we no longer use the term “resource”, but from now on call them people, and treat them accordingly.

Managers are also people

If managers start calling the people that they work with people, and treat them as human beings who bring their whole self to work, things will go better. Managers can show that they find people truly important by rewarding it.

My advice is to reward people who invest personal time by participating in a professional network. A compliment costs nothing and delivers so much. Talk about what they do and why you think it’s important. Give them opportunities to share knowledge in the company.

My advice to managers is to invest in themselves. Join professional networks to share and learn. Attend conferences to present and learn what others are doing. Talk to your colleagues to hear about their challenges and how they dealt with them. Coach people and be coached yourself.

Don’t call people resources implies the reciprocal: managers can expect to be treated by their employees as people too. So developers, stop using the term “management”, “business”, or “them”. Call them by their name, respect them. Assume that they also come to work to do their job the best they can, just like you.

Earlier I published an article in Dutch about this topic: Resources of Professionals.

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Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Gabrielle

    So true! We have also started to say people instead of resources the Technology unit, it brings a nicer culture and also avoids a lot of misunderstandings since a resource can be almost anything.

    1. Ben Linders

      Exactly! Glad to hear you decided to do this and are seeing the benefits.

  2. Dirk-Jan Swagerman

    Fully agree Ben!

  3. Tiana

    I agree. Nice article! thank you.

  4. Hugo

    […] said everyone is a resource under their company. They said it’s a basic term and there’s no problem behind it. I spoke to Daphne Soner about this and she said: “I have been working with many people in freelance work that refer to these helpful people as resources. Our resources at […] are tremendously valued.” But I still disagree. The terms makes people sound like reusable/replaceable resources. What do you think Ben? Am I going crazy here?

    1. Ben Linders

      There’s no law against using the word “resources” when you mean people. However, most people that I talk with don’t like to be called like that. That’s why I suggested to not use the word.

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