More Time Doesn't Mean Better; More People Doesn't Mean Quicker

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If something takes more time, that means it involves more effort, right? And if you want something done quicker, just add more people, right? Right…?


Everyone knows this. Or at least everyone should. Unfortunately, the thought that these two questions are wrong goes against the intuition of the very people who should know better.

And it’s not like this is some new concept. The Mythical Man Month - published in 1975 - talked about this very thing. That’s nearly 50 years ago.

That’s the book that talked about how nine women can’t make one baby in one month.

Then there’s this gem from Internet yore:

the Orchestra math problem

Thankfully, the Orchestra math problem was intentional - it was meant to show exactly what I’m talking about in this post.

I wanted to make more examples where either adding more people cannot make something faster - and may even make it slower - or just because something takes longer doesn’t make it better.

Here are six examples:

  • If two people run a mile together in ten minutes, how many minutes will it take four people to run the same mile?
  • After I finally run a 5k in under 30 minutes, how much time will it take me to run the next 5k if I have two friends join me?
  • You order a Big Mac at McDonald’s. It takes one minute for the employees to get you your order. How much better is the Big Mac if the employees take five minutes to get your order.
  • Person A runs a mile in 20 minutes. Person B runs a mile in 10 minutes. How much more effort did Person A exert than Person B?
  • Person A can bake a cake in 15 minutes. If two addition bakers help Person A, how many cakes can they make in that same 15 minutes?
  • Four people can give their daily status update in 15 minutes. How much quicker would the status update be if ten people had to give their status update?

Do you know of any, real-world or imagined? Comment below!

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