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Mythical Man Month at Play

Reuters recently published an article, “Brokers delay 1099s, causing US investor angst”, about big online brokerages, including Charles Schwab, Raymond James, ShareBuilder, TradeKing, Wells Fargo Advisors and Zecco, needing a 30-day extension of the February 15 deadline to send tax forms to their customers.

Articles by Betterment Editors

By the Editorial Staff
Betterment Resource Center  |  Published: April 3, 2012

Not only did Betterment not apply for an extension, we had our tax forms and TurboTax integration done on January 31 – two weeks before the final deadline. We’re chuffed that our team was able to accomplish something that firms ten times our size (actually make that hundred times our size) weren’t able to accomplish.

So, why are we sharing this? Other than the chance to show off a little, examples like this help explain how Betterment is different from other brokerages.

Characteristic of the disruptive model, Betterment is able to provide a service that historically needed a much larger operations team. Our, efficient, technology driven processes allow us to keep costs low for our customers.

Add our development and operation teams’ seamless execution – and bam! – you have record tax processing time.

One reason the bigger online brokerages were slower could be “mythical man month” where adding manpower to a late software project actually makes it later.

Some managers fool themselves into thinking that if a project is behind its deadline it can be sped up by simply adding more men (or man months – one person’s effort over a 30 day span). Fred Brooks – the guy who wrote the book on the topic – claimed that adding more resources to a project not only failed to speed it up, it actually added to the delay.

He phrased it in another way: “nine women can’t make a baby in one month” i.e. one person develops skills and knowledge specific to a project and the additional developers need time to catch up and additional time to coordinate.

A lot has changed since Brooks conducted this study however. One developer today can do the work of five developers 30 years ago. The overarching principle still stands however: Projects delayed by inefficient methods cannot be improved just by adding more developers. In fact, the problems are exacerbated and only become more apparent when you add more developers to the project.

With the right structures in place, and a productive team, the mythical man month can be avoided. It’s why we will continue to focus our efforts on efficient systems, so as we grow, we can continue to offer the service we do now.

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