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Person Hours, Not Man Hours

By Ranjan Singh, Vice President, Product Management, IPC

I started my career as a software engineer 25 years ago, progressing to building and managing large teams across many functions (software development, product management, marketing and program management). About 7 years into my career, I became a manager and was producing project plans and work estimates on a regular basis. A key component of producing these plans was an effort estimate for individual tasks. One estimated the effort in hours, weeks or months in their favorite tool — Excel, Microsoft Project or similar. I observed that if Microsoft Project was used, individuals entered their unit estimate against the relevant tasks. However, if they happened to use Excel or any free form tool (text file, Microsoft word, email) — the estimate was always communicated as “man hours” or “man days” or “man months”.

The use of “man hours” persisted when individuals communicated the estimates verbally. I felt uncomfortable as the term “man hours” was freely used in the presence of women. I found it odd that a person would feel comfortable saying, “Anne has estimated her task to be 30 man hours”. For the record, “Anne” was a women.

Ever since, I have been correcting written and verbal communications at every opportunity and driving this change within the teams that I build, manage or interact with — “It’s person hours, not man hours”. The term “man …” is so entrenched in technology that people correct themselves for brief periods, but then go back to using “man …” at the next instance. I have found that the most effective method to drive this change is in written communications and modifying project templates or any documents communicating effort estimates of any nature. The pervasive use of “person hours” in written communications, sub-consciously gets people attuned to using that term instead of “man ..”.

Some may ask — “Does it matter, everyone understands what it means?” I think it does and it has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with respect and ensuring equality. I have been making a conscious effort to drive this change for 18 years. I hope that long before my 8 year old daughter starts her professional career — we are using the phrase “person hours” and not “man hours”.

© 2018 IPC Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The contents of this publication are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal or regulatory advice.