A Business Technology Place

More or Less?

Truth.

There will always be more work to do than is possible to accomplish by my team.

Think more. Whine less.

Earlier this year I penned some thoughts about thinking through resource contention, Do more with what you have!, because I was looking for better ways to address resource contention than to simply say more people are needed. Getting stuff done is as much a mindset as it is a collection of work output. I’ve learned that when I am overwhelmed with size of the backlog of tasks then the frequency of my output decreases.

In the book, ReWork,  Fried and Hansson address the value of staying lean with less,

“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative. “

Do I believe that? The words do inspire me to look at my backlog through a different set of lenses. One thing I know is this. If I’m able to produce consistent output that adds value to the customer and mission of my team then conversations about the priority of the backlog are easier.

In the book Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne say it this way,

“instead of getting more resources, tipping point leaders concentrate on multiplying the value of the resources they have.”

The Theory of Constraints management paradigm teaches us to first find the constraint within a process and then to exploit the constraint by shifting resources, managing work queues, and possibly adding capacity. With this lense, value is unlocked by first examining the underlying process instead of trying to add more people.

More or less?

As I sit writing this, I’m led to these conclusions:

More is contentment with less because having less allows me to get more done.

Less is obsession about more, because having more often leads to getting less done.

Onward and upward!

Do more with what you have!

We need more people. We don’t have enough resources.

Every week I hear about the conflict between the number of employees in the organization and the amount of work to do.  The underlying presumption is the organization can accomplish more by adding more people. The problem with this rationale is it takes the focus of solution delivery off the processes used to deliver solutions. Adding more people to a team is complicated:

  • It adds more strain on inter-team communication. Whatever inefficiencies exist in the current team environment will become more apparent with more people.
  • It creates the need to train and develop new people in the culture, business, and process flows of your company.
  • It moves the process bottleneck to another departmental team. For example, if you add more developers then you need more business analysts for requirements documentation.
  • It values urgent things over important things.

The right process will give the right results.

There are times when staff should be expanded. But it can’t be arbitrary and because the existing staff feels stressed about the existing workload. A better approach is to first examine the current environment for ways to work smarter and more focused. Process focused leaders look for ways to work smarter knowing that in the long run it will deliver greater capacity and more value added results. I don’t consider this doing more with less. I like to think of these actions as doing more with what you already have. Consider these approaches:

  • Write less code – If our first solution to solving a problem is writing code, then we’ve missed the opportunity to solve the problem by simplifying the process. The ultimate solution may require less code. Keep it simple!
  • Align value streams to your mission. – The activities we do that should be more important to us are the ones that align to our mission. The mission is a guide-post when deciding between what’s urgent and what’s important.
  • Develop existing employees before adding more. – The existing staff can provide more capacity if they work on the right things with more efficient processes. To do more with less we have to believe that getting existing people to understand the power of process efficiency, focus, and alignment adds more capacity. Get employees to work harder, but not before you help them work smarter.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jim1102 via creative commons.

 

Turning your thoughts into action

We’ve all been there. You’re consuming some type of media (blog, book, video, podcast, lecture, etc.) and you’re thinking about how you can apply this new knowledge to your life. In your mind, you can conquer problems, move mountains, improve processes, help others, etc. But then you finish your meal of information and thought all that knowledge is often forgotten and lost. Why does this happen? Do we decide that we’ll never be able to make those improvements? Do we think the ideas are nice to think about but not yet ready for prime time life? It’s nice to think about using a new method for time management, business improvement, or relationship building. But when you finish the material and life happens, then the idea is lost. You move on to the next think crying out for your attention.

The biggest contributor to forgetting the information is that we don’t have a system or process for documenting and following-up with the learnings. This information must be captured just like other actionable items. Record the thought in a place that you can access later, or better yet, record the thought in a place that you will access later.

It’s not difficult. It takes a little discipline and forethought. Here are some ways you can turn your thoughts into action:

One

Record your thoughts in your ‘to-do’ or task list. You have one of these right? It could be the task tracker in your email program such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Lotus Notes, or Google Mail. Your list should include some type of designator so that you can record your thought as an idea or specific task with a priority. This way, you’ll be reminded of the thought periodically. If the item becomes aged without any progress, as with tasks, you should ask yourself if its really worth doing.

Two

Write a review on sites such as Plaxo, Amazon, BookReview.com, or even Facebook. This idea is slightly different because you are recording your thoughts for others to consume. If you use this type of process make sure to list out what you consider to be key learnings or the main ideas for what you are reviewing. Make sure that your reviews are searchable so that when you want to recall a key learning sometime later that you can easily find it.

Three

Record your thoughts into a journal, blog entry, electronic notebook, or other organizer such as Microsoft One Note. Think of these tools as a filing system. Tag the content with adequate keywords so that you can retrieve the information later. You may even choose to keep a to-do list in this format.

What about you?

How do you organize your learnings for follow-up and implementation? Do you have a different system than mentioned above?

When email holds you back

email

I often hear people talk about how they are overwhelmed with email. They end up not responding to email or responding after the subject matter is no longer relevant for decision making or valuable input. It probably doesn’t surprise people that know me, but I try to abide by the 24 rule for email. I either respond, delete, acknowledge, or file a new email within 24 hours. I do not use my in-box as one big folder where email is sorted by name. Instead, the email in my in-box is sorted by date and generally kept to a page or less on the viewing screen.

Today I was thinking about another inefficiency of email. When people use email as their primary means for communication it not only compounds the amount of email they have to process but it also lengthens the amount of time required to complete tasks and reach decisions. As I think about it, this is only logical.

  1. Written communication is often misinterpreted and can require multiple messages to reach an agreement
  2. Email is often not responded to if the recipient(s) does not keep up with their email or has bad email habits. The risk of this is compounded as more recipients are added to the email.
  3. It can take weeks to determine the right person(s) needed for a decision or resolution. How many times have you received an email forwarded to you that contains a chain of email responses representing days or weeks of time?
  4. If a recipient is out of the office and forgets to set an out of office reminder, the sender could wait unnecessarily before reaching out to others to solve the task or reach a decision.
  5. Written communication often creates other questions from the recipient. Additional exchanges are required to answer the question(s).

So should we abandon the use of email? Of course not. Email does have purpose and can facilitate interactions if used properly. But for items in your work life that require timely decisions and resolution, pickup the phone and call or schedule a meeting. You’ll be more efficient, more likely to meet deadlines, and reduce the amount of emails in your in-box.