Image pulled from The Phoenix Project.
Idle time increases dramatically the busier the resource is.
Note the HUGE spike at the 90% mark.
The context in the book is around the wait times between the handoffs. If everyone is at 90%+ capacity, wait times between people get progressively longer – therefore the amount of time it takes to perform a task takes longer.
There’s more to parse here. Take a real close look at that dramatic spike.
These days, it’s not just unplanned work that’s killing people. It’s the ongoing Agile projects, it’s the demand to do more with less, it’s the need to continually change technologies and repeatedly and rapidly go through the learning curve. All of these things suck up time, attention and cognitive capacity.
Furthermore, management wants to “maximize resource productivity.” Managerial planning and strategy, however, never seems to accommodate the unplanned work or the other projects where the resource is needed.
It continues to be a recipe for burnout and losing your best people. Nevermind the reduction in productivity.
Gene Kim argues for making sure work-in-progress is visible. He likes Kanban-style boards.
If nothing else, making your work-in-progress visible gets your to-do list out of your head where it takes up unnecessary cognitive space. It puts the tasks outside of yourself so you can evaluate importance. For myself, if I keep everything in my head, it ALL seems important and urgent.
Knowledge workers, such as IT staff, also struggle with measuring progress. Kanban’s practice of moving the “to-do” from ready, doing, and done helps visualize progress. The “ready” section also allows for a bit of focus – as long as the person doing the work is allowed to complete what he or she is actually doing.
As the authors of The Phoenix Principle point out, the idea is to minimize the work in progress to accommodate the current constraint. Each item in work-in-process is a cost. Unplanned work in that work-in-process is technical debt. Too much work-in-process, that technical debt becomes very difficult to repay.
In real life, this looks like too much urgent work and feeling like one is on a hamster wheel that you can’t get off of.
This also looks like strategic initiatives falling by the wayside because everyone is too overloaded to even think about surfing the learning curve again.
Let me help you get your to-do list out of your head.
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I hope you can join me on this journey!