The hour of judgement

The hour of judgement

As we have written before, without conscious preparation, data collection and performance measurement, we do not recommend that a business should embark on the transition to a 4-day working week. This is a company- and industry-specific story. We can show you how we analysed the performance of our team in a software development company. To give the reader the full picture, we are forced to do a little specialisation, even if only superficially.

In the field of project management, we use the Scrum methodology, in which we can analyse the quality and quantity of tasks a team can deliver in a unit of time. There is a library of books on Scrum, so we will not discuss the principle of Scrum, only the specific solutions used at Alias.

Report analysis

In the Scrum methodology, there is a metric that describes the difficulty of a task. We use a special metric called "sandwich" to estimate the difficulty of a given task, which is determined by the team. The "sandwiches" follow the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence (1,2, 3,5,8,13) in order to distinguish between levels of difficulty. This brings up the practical analogy of "if you were going hiking, how many sandwiches would you take with you": e.g. 1-2 sandwiches for a small hike means you can do the task in a couple of hours, but 8-13 sandwiches is always a "camping party", i.e. you have to be prepared for several days of tasks. Here we also make an additional assumption: the difficulty of the tasks is considered to be addable at team level, so we sum up how many sandwiches a team "ate" during a certain period, i.e. practically how many and how difficult the tasks were.

In addition, another important constraint of Scrum is that it organises work into measurable, short periods of 1 to 4 weeks, called sprints. We have therefore chosen a golden mean of 2 weeks as the length of our sprints.

So a quantitative measure was given, we just had to choose the appropriate comparison duration, which represented the period from August 2023 to February 2024, with the corresponding period of 2022 serving as a reference. The decision was made for this period because by then the four-day workweek had been sufficiently integrated into the daily routine, so we did not have to worry about making judgments based on too early data. Another reason was that the number of developers and their preparedness was similar in both periods.

During the evaluation, we did not strive for analytically precise measurement, but we operated under the assumption that if we examine a sufficiently large interval of more than six months, the difficulty of the tasks and the amount of leave would give us a roughly correct average. If we had only looked at one or two months, it could easily have been a period in which we had to complete a more complex set of tasks, which would give a misleading picture of the performance.

The evaluation would not be adequate without data visualization, which is shown in the following diagram. We depicted the two-week sprints of the examined period on the horizontal axis, while the “sandwiches” consumed at the team level can be seen on the vertical axis.

Since it is not immediately clear from the diagram which setup is the winner, we also needed to determine the average performances, which were as follows:

Average performance for the examined period: 52.4 sandwiches/2 weeks.

Average performance for the reference period: 51.3 sandwiches/2 weeks.

The result

We did not observe a decrease in team performance in the central performance indicator; in fact, a slight increase is visible in the average performance of the examined period, although this value is likely due to the sample variance.

We also consider it important to highlight that this was just one of the parameters examined! Without claiming completeness, we also monitored the following qualitative and quantitative metrics:

  • Code quality
  • Test coverage
  • The number and severity of software bugs
  • The cycle time of software updates

We were pleased to find improvements in all these parameters. One of the reasons for this was obviously that the people behind the raw data were professionally developing, who managed to solve much more difficult, complex development tasks in a relatively shorter period over six months to a year. The team experienced a change in team members: the training processes could have slowed down the colleagues' performance, but we did not experience this. We considered these circumstances both professionally and personally during the evaluation.

But the evaluation is not over yet, as one of the considerations when introducing the four-day workweek was to increase employee motivation and achieve a better work-life balance. Was this successful? The reader can decide based on the following feedbacks:

“Personally, I like the 4-day working week because it allows me to schedule my daytime business, which can only be done during the working day, for Friday, without any rush. I also get more rest (or in theory I can, although I don't usually) and I am motivated by the fact that I have to fit all my work into 4 days, so I can work more quickly if I pay attention.. It also motivates me to work a bit extra over the weekend if I couldn't finish an important task during the week. Besides, I can better incorporate self-development blocks into the longer weekends, where I can learn programming languages, technologies, principles that aren't directly needed at the moment for my job, but contribute to becoming a better developer and applying them effectively later in my job. I also feel that everyone on the team is motivated and well-rested, they have time for their hobbies and can manage their time well.”
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Software developer
“Why do I like the four-day workweek? Because it’s much more efficient in terms of time management. As an engineer, one likes to optimize, and this applies mostly to one’s own time management. With the four-day workweek, significant idle time is eliminated and simply more fits into my life and more time remains for regeneration. The extra hours freed up are just right for doing tasks that at the end of a normal workday are just a hassle or unachievable: that’s when I go trail running, or start big breath-taking housework (planting, faucet installation, etc.). And if I don’t have any planned tasks, it’s the best because I can just exist and no one holds me accountable for it.”
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Sales leader
“For me, the advantage of the four-day workweek is that it allows us to consolidate our activities even more. This is especially close to my heart because when I am immersed in a challenging task, I don’t like having to interrupt it. With the four-day workweek, I can concentrate fully on work for four days and then have a day off where I can attend to general life matters, further develop myself, or relax. The longer weekends also provide an opportunity to recharge, so we return to work fresher and more motivated. I also feel they contribute to reducing the risk of burnout, thus overall I enjoy both the work and leisure time more.”
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Software developer
“Transitioning to a four-day workweek at Alias has been a game-changer in my opinion. Having Fridays off every week has allowed me to unwind fully and to delve deeper into personal projects. In the morning I do any chores that I need to do for the week, and during the afternoon I work on advancing my current personal projects. This means that I can truly relax during the weekend and come back the next week ready to be productive at work. So, this new work-life balance has not only allowed me to relax and fueled my creativity, but has also made me more efficient and focused during our four working days.”
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Software developer