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The Mythical Man Month in Software Project Management

written by: SparkKD • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/6/2011

What is the mythical man month? What are its implications for resource managers and how does it affect projects? Does it contribute towards effective resource management in companies or detract from it? These issues are addressed in this article.

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    Origin of the Mythical Man Month

    The concept of the Mythical Man Month was initially given in a seminal paper on Resource Management in Software Project Management by a man named Frederick Brooks. The main ideas behind the mythical man month and its implications for effective resource management in companies are as described below

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    Diminishing Returns with Additional Employees

    Addition of resources to a project will not immediately ensure early delivery i.e. Adding new members may speed up delivery, but the increase in speed may not be directly proportional to the amount of resources added.

    This above concept is illustrated in terms of numbers as follows

    If 5 People can execute a project in 100 days, 50 people may reduce delivery time significantly but not to 10 days (i.e. not in direct proportion)

    A deeper understanding of this can be obtained by studying the Law of Diminishing Returns in Economics.

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    Increasing Complexity in Communications

    This variation occurs due to the increasing complexity in communication necessitated by the addition of new people. As every new member is added to the team, it will take a while before the new member is brought up to speed and trained on the internal processes being followed etc. and there will be a lag before he/she is truly productive. And the time and effort spent on managing the addition of new people will be an additional overhead - a drain on the effective time available for delivery. This complexity in communications resulting from an inordinate increase in team size is a manifestation of the lack of effective resource management in companies.

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    More Communication Interfaces

    The increasing complexity of communication with the addition of new members can be illustrated with the exponential increase in the number of interfaces for communication.

    The below figure describes the number of members in a team and the various interfaces for interaction

    Mythical Man Month1 

    From the data it can be seen that,

    When the number of team members is = N

    The number of communication interfaces is given by = (N2-N)/2

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    Recommendations

    While sometimes, it may be required to increase a team size in order to ensure quicker delivery, due to the diminishing returns being obtained from each additional employee, it does not make sense to increase the size beyond a certain level. Therefore

    • Team Sizes must be kept as low as possible, ideally 4-6 members
    • Additional members should only be added when required
    • Managers should not be deceived by the mythical man month and should focus on effective resource management in companies with as limited a team size as possible