Microspeak: The statistic known as BIS


I learned this term from a chart presented at a team meeting. It contained a column labelled BIS. When asked what those letters meant, the team manager explained that it's an abbreviation for butts in seats. Everybody in the room instantly understood. It is the number of actual human beings sitting at desks doing work.

When doing project planning, you sometimes get carried away with the imaginary people who would be working on your project someday, treating them as if they were real people: coming up with features for these imaginary people to work on, projecting how many bugs these imaginary people will fix, looking forward to the funny stories these imaginary people will tell when you go out for a beer after work.

This is all ridiculous, of course, because imaginary people don't write code or fix bugs or buy you a pint of beer after work.

You need to base your calculations on actual human beings and not imaginary people. That's why you work with butts in seats and not empty seats. Sure, you have two open positions on your team, and you have every intention of hiring people to fill them over the next few months, but until there are butts in those seats, those people are still imaginary, and they're not doing any work, so you shouldn't count them in your charts.

Comments (13)
  1. GWO says:

    "This is all ridiculous, of course, because imaginary people don’t write code or fix bugs or buy you a pint of beer after work."

    Are you kidding?  Where I work, imaginary people are the only ones who fix bugs or buy me beer.

  2. kog999 says:

    For once an intelligent management term. How many times has someone said we’ll give these tasks to the new developer. only to find 4 months have gone by with no one hired and the tasks are either left undone, assigned to someone who is already overloaded, etc.

  3. Hardware Junkie says:

    I can’t tell you how many times over the years that I referred to my imaginary friends in project planning/review meetings w/ my management. It helped them "get" that the plan had two parts, one was the fantasy-based-on-wishful-thinking about what real people already present in the org could do, and the other was the "upside" possible if our imaginary friends were reified somehow. It allowed us to discuss moving features from one bucket to the other, and sometimes made them laugh a little during usually painful discussions.

  4. James Schend says:

    "You go to war with the army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.""

    • Donald Rumsfeld
  5. Mark Jonson says:

    Reminds me of the Everybody Loves Raymond episode in which Frank tells Ray to use AIS. The I and S stand for the same thing, you can infer what the A stands for. :)

  6. David Walker says:

    "Reified".  Great word!

  7. mikeb says:

    @Hardware Junie and David Walker:

    I agree that ‘reified’ is a great word. I’ve always liked it. For me it conjures up a combination of magic and science; creating something from nothing (or an idea).

    Sorry for the continued thread drift; back to butts in seats…

  8. Gabe says:

    Mark: That episode aired in February 2004, so it predates this post enough to qualify as the possible inspiration for the BIS nomenclature.

  9. Philo says:

    “Butts in seats” is an awful term for that metric. Personally, I would use “actual bodies” or “real people.”

    To me, (and surfing around a bit online, I see I’m not alone), “butts in seats” has always meant exactly that and nothing more – someone sitting in the chair. Not writing code, not debugging or running QA, not buying beers – just a butt in the seat.

    This article: http://www.certmag.com/read.php?in=2868

    talks about “butts in seats” referring to those large services companies whose only goal is to maximize the manpower on a contract – the number of “butts in seats” no matter what they’re doing.

    I also worked with a guy who was positive that our management ran metrics on “Butt-hours per week” because all they seemed to care about was how long we were in the office; not what we produced or who did what. The key to advancement was about spending twelve hours a day in the office, not actually writing code.

    The inverse of “butts in seats” would be “productivity” – actual work done.

    [Thanks for taking all the fun out of a cute phrase. -Raymond]
  10. Nathan says:

    Butts in seats is a pretty common term in workforce management, particularly in the callcenter industry.  It refers to those in their seats taking calls – not on break, lunch, in the bathroom, in training, meetings, etc.

  11. Jonathan says:

    I’m reminded of another Microspeak I’ve heard: BOL. It stand for "Butt On Line", and refers tpo the person who is in charge on a certain project, and would have to provide answers in case it fails – the person who put his butt on the line for this project.

    Project Managers: Remember that even when a theoretical headcount turns into an actual BIS, its contribution isn’t immediately equal to existing team member. Actually, initially the contribution is negative, as he draws time from team members for ramp-up.

  12. Ralph says:

    I immediately though of Best in Slot, a world of warcraft acronym, but your works too…

  13. CmraLvr2 says:

    I’m a Butt In Seat On Line…

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