Identifying Trends in Staffing Ratios
No matter what the task-a benchmark study, a Process Maturity study, or a consulting visit-consultants are continually asked the same question: What ratio of information to product developers are others using to staff their organizations? While the information from other organizations may appease senior management, information-development managers who seek this information discover that there is no simple or correct answer when it comes to ratios. Moreover, ratios become meaningless when we take into account that half the ratio-the number of engineers or product developers assigned to a project-does not follow any formal guidelines other than perceived or expected need.
Efficient information-development managers know what number of information developers works well for them. In the flurry of ratios floating around in informal exchanges, they will undoubtedly find support for their current staffing level. Unfortunately, the same data will provide less-efficient managers with support for their haphazard staffing levels and ratios.
We explored our own data on about 25 organizations that have participated in various studies conducted by the Center to determine what trends we could find in staffing ratios and if any themes could be discerned. Not surprisingly, the ratios of information developers to product developers in these companies ranged from a low of 1 to 30 to a high of 1 to 3.3. The median ratio was 1 to 10. We did, however, note two key differences:
- Software companies had a higher ratio (1 to 5) than hardware companies (1 to 10).
- Low-end products had a higher ratio (1 to 10) than high-end products (1 to 15).
Product Nature and Staffing Ratios
Because of manufacturing requirements, hardware companies generally have a longer time-to-market than software companies. This provides information developers with a greater period of time in which to prepare manuals. Additionally, this greater period of time creates fewer peak periods of work, thus allowing for more consistent staffing levels. Software, on the other hand, is on increasingly shorter release schedules. These release schedules create frequent peak periods of work and necessitate higher staffing levels. New policies of streaming releases deem an even higher ratio.
Product Users and Staffing Ratios
Information products on high-end products such as servers and workstations generally address a more experienced user. These users are generally technically proficient with technical information; they require less product information than low-end products and fewer information developers are needed to translate the information to new audiences. Thus staffing ratios are often lower for high-end products. Low-end products, on the other hand, address the needs of potentially very inexperienced users. Thus, information products require greater detail and a greater understanding of user needs, in turn, yielding higher ratios for organizations that produce them.
There are a number of other characteristics about your group that will determine ideal staffing level. In addition to the two trends discussed above, consider:
- the level of process maturity of the information- and product-development groups
- the experience levels of the individual information developers within your group
- the number of product developers whose work directly affects information of concern to the customers
- the position of the product in the technology life cycle (Moore, Crossing the Chasm, review in Best Practices Vol. 1, No. 1)
- the cost of the product per unit sales (less expensive products may need more information to decrease the costs of customer support)