What is work type budgeting?

Well-established engineering organizations have a lot on their plate. They need to deliver flashy new features to entice a new customer segment, improve existing products to keep current customers happy, maintain their delivery efficiency (by reducing their technical debt), and invest in their people – all the while continuing to “keep the lights on”. 

Yet, many of these activities can go unnoticed – and be underappreciated. Business stakeholders want to see the results of their investments and the most obvious way, which manifests itself, is via new product lines and features. Unfortunately, the less glamourous activities of keeping things running are just as important, and can often require just as much (if not more) investment.  

Without a simple, transparent, well-defined framework for managing team capacity and the kind of work on which a team focuses, cracks will start appearing. Soon, you’ll start to hear questions like “Where is my money going?”, “Why is this new feature taking so long?” and “What is everyone spending their time on?”.  

At Nintex, we use the concept of “work type budgeting” to manage this proactively. 

What is “Work Type Budgeting”? 

Work type budgeting is a framework or technique, which can be used to allocate a proportion of a delivery team’s capacity to different kinds of work.  

At Nintex, we’ve defined the following five “work types”: 

  • Keeping the lights on – Tasks that simply must be done to keep an existing product operating at its current levels. For example, maintaining software compatibility and current levels of service uptime, addressing functional defects or support items, or performing regular routine procedures, such as service monitoring or hardware maintenance.  
  • New features – Development of entirely new products, features or services. 
  • Improvements – Improvements to the quality of an existing product or service. For example, smoother onboarding, usability enhancements, better performance, or customer-requested enhancements to existing features.  
  • Productivity enhancements – Tasks to improve the efficiency and productivity of the internal organization or team. For example, improving developer tooling or telemetry, refactoring code, improving build or release pipelines, or any other technical debt.  
  • Professional development – Activities undertaken to improve the professional competence of an individual. For example, product training, technical training, management or leadership courses, mentoring, and performance reviews.  

What is the purpose of “Work Type Budgeting”? 

Ultimately, the purpose of work type budgeting is to ensure that the organization’s business goals, OKRs (objectives and key results) and wider product strategy can drive how a team is spending their time. For example: 

  • If a product is in a phase of aggressive growth, where their OKRs might reflect things like “increasing the number of users adopting the product” or “increasing market share”, it is likely that the focus of a team’s work should be on building “new features” to help appeal to a new or larger customer segment. In such a case, they might spend 80% of their time on new features, and the remaining 20% split across the other work types. 
  • On the other hand, if a product’s customers are soon to be migrated onto an alternative solution, and the plan is to deprecate the legacy product within a year, the focus of the team’s work might be 100% on keeping the lights on. 

At Nintex, this kind of budgeting is reviewed regularly (at a minimum quarterly but sometimes more often) to ensure constant alignment with the organization’s business goals and a team’s commitments.  

What are the benefits of “Work Type Budgeting”? 

Quantifying a team’s capacity with work type budgeting provides a number of benefits. For example: 

  • It ensures delivery teams are aligned to the organization’s goals. Product Managers and Engineering Managers can help “budget” a team’s sprint capacity with the right allocation of work to maximize the team’s chances of achieving their quarterly OKRs.  
  • As mentioned, it provides transparency to stakeholders. Conversations around what a team is spending their time on (or should be spending their time on), and what trade-offs have been made, can be much more productive, when based on an easily understood framework, with actual data to help plan and manage expectations. 
  • It helps us to understand where our teams have been spending their time vs what we originally planned, giving us insight into potential problem areas. For example, a team budgeted to focus their time purely on new features, but ends up spending most of their time on keeping the lights on, might suggest the need for more foundational issues to be addressed first. 

At Nintex, we believe transparency, alignment, and good planning are all keys to delivering (and maintaining) successful products, which our customers will love – and work type budgeting is just one of many techniques we use to help with this.  



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