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(OT) Boss asks "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?

by vkon (Curate)
on Jul 06, 2006 at 15:48 UTC ( [id://559607] : perlmeditation . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Dear monks,

I saw in this section many wise words discussing Perl-related job in office, and how to convince boss on some Perl opinion, so I beleive I chosed right place to ask.

I work in language translation department and heavily use Perl for many translation work.
I prepare files for translators, and my job is to reuse old translations and provide convenient file format, terminology, etc.

Now boss asks me by e-mail

What would you say the incremental (FY06 over FY05) savings (=cost reduction) are through your Perl scripts? So not the total savings achieved that way but the incremental savings over last year in dollars.

The thing is - I did huge cost reduction in FY05 with a help of bunch of Perl scripts, and I hardly will do the same in FY06, because such savings are impossible to do :)
Now in FY06 I did my ordinary work, with a lot of help from Perl, but no more such projects.
But answering that now "incremental savings are negative" is obviously wrong.

I feel if I'll answer wisely our department will probably gain better resources for Perl usage,
and mistakes in my message could cost me moving to other platforms etc.

Do you guys have ideas to share?

Thank you all in advance for all good advices you'll provide.

update fixed typo in the title

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Re: (OT) Boss answers "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by Tanktalus (Canon) on Jul 06, 2006 at 16:43 UTC

    Odd - all my perl scripts have not achieved a single dollar in savings. They've merely given me (and others in my team) more time to do things we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise ;-)

    My last manager asked me this type of question all the time - estimates of cost (and thus savings) was a significant portion of my job. We had the conversation early on where we both knew that the numbers were all complete lies, but, and here is where some programming purists get flustered, that's just the way the corporate game is played. The rules suck, but, based on the golden rule (he with the gold, rules), if you want to get paid, you gotta work within the structure given (ethical and moral quandaries aside).

    I just got into the habit of making stuff up that was plausible enough to pass muster. Sometimes my made-up numbers would widely disagree with my manager's made-up numbers, and we'd have a discussion about why the numbers should be more or less than what we thought they should be. Which may sound strange if I'm also claiming they were all numbers just pulled from out of the air. But that's only part of my claim. The other part is that these numbers form part of a corporate game. That game is one whereby you attempt to quantify your contribution to the company and the toll that the company is taking on you.

    It's actually like my old joke node on XP. But more serious. This really is an attempt to take all your contributions and worth as an employee, and boil them all down to a simple, easy-to-grasp number. Easy enough for a non-techie (often higher management and/or HR bean-counters) to grasp.

    If you don't like the numbers (which I'm not blaming you for - though I may play the game, this doesn't mean I like it), think of it this way. You're trying to come up with the value that your perl scripts have provided to the company. Think about the time saved, and what would not have been accomplished if you had to continue doing those tasks without the perl code. The value of those additional tasks is directly the value of the perl code. You just have to convert it to a number so that others that may not grasp that correlation may grasp the value anyway.

    So, then, what is the value this year compared to last year when you wrote that code? Well, you won't have to write the code again, I hope, so the amount of time spent on the perl code will be a new savings this year. And, as was mentioned, you probably will have more time to use the code this year than last, so there's more savings. Of course, next year will be a problem here - your savings next year should be the same as this year, all else being equal.

    But there's the key: you have more experience this year than you did last year. You should be able to take that experience and tweak your code to help more than it already is. To automate more things. Or just to be simpler.

    With all that in mind, you should be able to express two numbers to your boss: a) the savings given nothing changing, and b) the estimate of what more you can do to tweak the process to be more efficient. At this point, it may not be the revolution that it was last year. That's ok - small progress is still progress.

      thank you, your meditation is just what I needed :)

      to summarize:

      • given my salary is unchanged and my knowledge grows, here incremental saving number one.
      • given I already have scripts so I do not rewrite them anymore. This is actually even more serious than it appears to be: my utils are executed regularly by other people thus giving saving of language translators work, but I am writing new utilites to optimize even more, thus incremental saving.
      • given they want numbers they want to hear, I'll provide $3K-$5K estimate, thus for everyone to be happy, and me to be a good workizen :):)
Re: (OT) Boss answers "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by philcrow (Priest) on Jul 06, 2006 at 15:57 UTC
    I would answer something like this. Last year in month x I deployed a system which began saving us $y per month. Since it was in place at the beginning of 2006, it will save even more this year ( 12 * y instead of a mere (12-x)*y ). Continued investment in perl skills will make more such moves possible on future projects.


Re: (OT) Boss answers "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by perrin (Chancellor) on Jul 06, 2006 at 16:28 UTC
    No need to be sneaky. Tell him what you just said -- you cut costs last year by introducing Perl automation into the process, and this year you are following through on your plan, so the overall savings remain high but the incremental savings are not significant. If you think more could be done if he gave you time and training to do it, tell him so.
Re: (OT) Boss answers "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by ptum (Priest) on Jul 06, 2006 at 16:13 UTC

    You might try to clarify with your boss, is he expecting a wild estimate, an educated guess, or something more definite? Personally, I hate these kind of questions.

    philcrow's answer is a good one ... it reminds your boss of the cumulative savings over time of the reduction you made last year and avoids his 'what can you do for us THIS year' question.

    In all fairness, though, I would challenge your statement: "... because such savings are impossible to do." I would not be surprised if further savings opportunities occurred to you to follow on from your success last year. If you came up with a creative solution last year, why not expect another such solution this year? Perl is a powerful language applicable to a large problem space ... don't sell yourself short.

    Personally I would refuse to make a guess, because I'm uncomfortable drifting too far from ones and zeroes. At the same time, though, I would try to convince my boss to make some conservative assumptions based on last year's performance.

    No good deed goes unpunished. -- (attributed to) Oscar Wilde

      worse than just 'what can you do for us THIS year', it was "incremental savings", so I must run as fast as I can to stay on the same place.

      Now I think my answer to be "my rough estimates are between $3K and $5K" just random but realistic and good-looking numbers ...

      In all fairness, though, I would challenge your statement: "... because such savings are impossible to do."

      that was last language translation in TROFF format, which I happen to made into translating XML files, so translators could use their known environments.
      Without me, it made translators to do much more manual work (as they did earlier)
      that was last time such translation was ordered
      We migrated to other formats and that is why I do not have chances to do the same

Re: (OT) Boss asks "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by jhourcle (Prior) on Jul 06, 2006 at 20:52 UTC

    I see a few ways of calculating 'incremental benefit' -- optimization, and increased usage.

    First, we take the cost of an employee to the company (around here, it's $125k, due to salary, benefits, office space, equipment, etc., but you might have different grades of people, etc.) Then we assume ~47 weeks per year (holidays, vacation, sick leave, etc.), and we come out to ~$66.50/hr.

    Now, if you were to optimize your program, and shave off (x) seconds per execution, then it's just a simple time savings based on the number of number of times people execute it through the day (y), and the number of people using it (z)

    $66.50 * x * y * z * 5 * 47 / 3600

    Now, if you consider that either (y) or (x) may increase since last year, we also have to add in for each of those, but instead of (x), we use the overall time savings of the program over the previous methods (t) (in seconds)

    $66.50 * t * ( (delta x)*y + (delta x)*(delta y) + x*(delta y) ) * 5 * 47 / 3600

    It's that second one where you can justify your work, normally. Some people might argue that it's an already existing program, and you shouldn't count it, but you don't know for sure that it's going to work for every new input thrown at it, and someone's going to have to maintain it should it not work.

Re: (OT) Boss asks "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by Dervish (Friar) on Jul 07, 2006 at 06:05 UTC
    One other issue that can come up with this type of question is "What would it cost the company if we stopped maintaining these utilities?" Many tools are constantly evolving, meeting the needs of different sources, incremental features, and so on. If you stopped maintaining these tools, then each of these new features would need to be provided by the old manual methods. So a part of your value added would be the simple act of keeping these tools useful to your business.
Re: (OT) Boss asks "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 09, 2006 at 23:46 UTC

    Just remember one thing, your $3000 - $5000 estimate
    will certainly come back to you as :

    "You said we would definitely save at least $5000!"

    Been there ...

Re: (OT) Boss asks "Incremental savings through Perl Scripts..." what to answer?
by CountZero (Bishop) on Jul 10, 2006 at 21:09 UTC
    If --say-- your Boss has budgeted a 10% increase in productivity and volume, your already existing scripts will automatically generate an incremental saving of 10% of their last year's benefit, without any effort from your side!


    "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler." - Conway's Law