Archive for the 'Adaptive Process' Category

Busyness Fallacy

busyness-fallacyBeing busy is either our procrastination strategy or else our inability to organize our lives well. Busy people are perceived as important. They even feel they’re important. But, being busy isn’t to be productive. A 100% workload leaves us with no time to take on new important tasks.

People who were asked to calculate their hourly wage before listening to a short piece of music, were more impatient while the music was playing.[1] They wanted to do something more profitable. The widening gap nowadays between can-do and doing is also busyness driving.

Tim Ferriss wrote that the options are almost limitless for creating busyness.[2] Why not commit yourself to produce quantities of documents? Or else you can make sure you have key roles in all ongoing projects. Above all, be a link in as many chain of commands as possible.

The busyness fills our calendar with meetings and other hardscapes. Thus, we can never deliver what we committed to at those meetings. It’ll overload our cognitive capacity. Fight-or-flight mode will crowd out our analytical proficiency. Priorities become inflexible.

Idleness is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. You’ll see the wholeness and make unexpected connections.[3] And replacing unpredictable deadlines with timeboxing makes you more adaptable to change. A good start is to never use the word busy as an answer.

[1] DeVoe S. E., House J. – Time, money, and happiness: How does putting a price on time affect our ability to smell the roses?, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 2, March 2012.
[2] Ferriss T. – The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich, Random House, 2007.
[3] Kreider T. – We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons, Simon and Schuster, 2012.

Volunteer Hour — Strategy for Quick and Smooth Interruption Recovery

volunteer-hourMy client Saša was convinced that she couldn’t possibly work in time boxes. She was always interrupted by subordinates [1]. Her observation was that it’s a part of her manager role to be at the heart of things, to always be prepared to help others. In the latter, she was right.

We tried that she blocked an hour after lunch every day in her calendar. We called it the volunteer hour. When colleagues requested her helping hand during the day, she — instantly without dissecting the problem — scheduled a 15-30 minute meeting in her next volunteer hour.

The concrete and simple action plan, made her interruption recovery smooth and quick. No momentum was lost for the task she focused on before she was interrupted. On days where no requests for help appeared, she spent her volunteer hour on discretionary work.

Naturally, there are exceptions. When Saša could answer a question from the top of her head, she did so immediately. Sudden high-risk tasks also had a higher priority than her volunteer hour strategy. But, how often can a task not be deferred a few hours?

Already after a few weeks, Saša told me how successful the volunteer hour strategy is. She used it also for incoming phone calls that required more thoughts and discussions. An added bonus was the fact that the Zeigarnik effect [2] let her subconsciously process the task ahead.

[1] Wajcman, Judy, Rose, Emily – Constant Connectivity: Rethinking Interruptions at Work, Organization Studies, vol. 32 no. 7 941-961, July 2011.
[2] Zeigarnik, Bluma – Das Behalten erledigter und unerledigter Handlungen. Psychologische Forschung 9, 1-85, 1927.

Your Email Inbox as Kitchen Sink or Bookshelf?

inbox-zeroDo you manage your email inbox similar to your kitchen sink or your bookshelf? The answer will not only disable or enable your ability to practice Inbox Zero — the habit to regularly process your inbox to empty. It’ll also put you in either cognitive exhausted or cognitive alert mode.

You bought a new book and read it. Now you want to put it in your bookshelf, which unfortunately happens to be full. You skim the spines and almost randomly remove one book to give room for your new book. Bookshelf is left unsorted. Do you recognize this? Probably.

Your kitchen sink is full of a combination of leftovers and plastic packaging materials. You throw a glance and rather randomly decide to remove the cucumber parts and leave everything else in the same mess as you found it. Do you recognize this? Absolutely not.

Understanding, deciding, recalling, memorizing, and inhibiting are the five functions that make up the majority of our conscious thoughts. They are intensive glucose and oxygen consumers. Overuse makes us feel exhausted. Managing the inbox as a bookshelf relies on all five.

Kitchen sink cleaning is not completed until everything is removed. Every single email must be deleted, archived or put in a to-do folder. Inbox zero is not a continuous state. Analogous to the kitchen sink cleaning, we ought to do it 2-3 times a day.

Efficiency, Productivity, and Effectiveness

In the area of time management – or attention management which is a more accurate term – the three words efficiency, productivity and effectiveness are sometimes misused as if they were interchangeable. And if they are not blurred in that way, they are often wrongly considered as three competing horses, where you have to make a bet on one and not the other two. However, their mutual interdependency is strong.

  • Efficiency is often about speed. How fast can you execute a sub procedure? And even better: how fast can you execute the very same sub procedure one trillion times? More general it’s about consuming as little resources – doesn’t have to be time – as possible, while executing your sub procedure. An efficient person or organization excel and doesn’t waste any energy, time, or resources. But you might not deliver anything in the end.
  • Productivity is about creating a complete product. The result of your work is a whole; a thing that can be used. Efficiency is very important for productivity. Suppose that a mail is a product. The mail must at least consist of a letter and a stamped envelope with the receiver’s address. Efficiency without productivity is to impressively fast create 100 stamped envelopes, but no receiver’s address and no letter. It would be more productive to produce 10 complete mails with letter, stamp and address, in the same span of time. Low efficiency impedes productivity. If you write the addresses really slowly, then in the end of the day you might only have produced one single mail. Productivity is the ratio of produced output to supplied input. If you never ship anything, then produced output and the ratio is zero, no matter how hard you’ve worked.
  • Effectiveness is about creating products that matters. I mean things that add value to other contexts, systems or people. Productivity is very important for effectiveness. Productivity without effectiveness is to write a fabulous business letter, and then send it to 100 random people around the world. The effectiveness is increased if you send the letter to the people who can boost your business. Low productivity impedes effectiveness. Even if you create complete mails, they don’t add any value – cause desired effect – if they’re not sent to the right persons.

So, effectiveness relies on productivity. And productivity relies on efficiency. In a pull based attention management method, you start with effectiveness. Your choice of intended effect will guide you to the best kind of productivity, which in turn will help you see what sort of efficiency you need.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Separate the Zebra from the Herd

From Zebra Herd To Kanban

From Zebra Herd To Kanban.

Suddenly it was crystal clear to me. The evolutionary story of the stripes of the zebra told me why I don’t have to fail. I had so many important tasks to carry out. I fought the in-box from dusk to dawn. I reacted to new ideas and added them to Work-In-Progress. And the most important tasks remained undone. They hid in the herd.

The zebra stripes confuses the lion. Each individual’s stripes blends in with the stripes of the herd fellows around this particular zebra. The lion has trouble picking out any one zebra and he’s got no plan for how to attack. He can’t even understand in which direction the zebra is moving. The predator doesn’t see a prey, it can only see a lot of stripes – hundreds or thousands – moving around in an unpredictable pattern.

Each zebra is an activity in our To-Do. We are the lion that needs to focus on one zebra at a time. Our Work-In-Progress mustn’t be the number of individuals in the zebra herd. Our effort to complete any task, depends on our success in separating a zebra from the herd. And even more: to complete the most important task – to be maximum effective – we must separate the right zebra from the herd.

Great news is that there are good practices that come to rescue. The Now List is mandatory, i.e. you must limit the work in progress. You must also understand that focus mode (completing tasks) and overview mode (classifying, sorting, and prioritizing tasks) are not compatible. You need to alternate frequently between these two modes — in a controlled way. And a third practice is to visualize all potential upcoming activities. The recipe goes: create the big picture, choose your target, and don’t constantly switch.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Pivot – kanban token as a thought torn out of the thing

A sticky note on a kanban board is a pivot.

Sticky notes on a kanban board are pivots.

We can be incredibly efficient, but the users of the software we’re creating will only benefit from it if we are effective. Effectiveness is when our customers solve more problems and with higher quality – when they make better business. Implementing received specs is pushing paper. Pro-activeness is to make all aspects of software development to activities to develop our understanding of our client’s needs. Continues delivery is a great tool here and pivots can help us stuff these deliveries with the most effective content.

A pivot is an object used to function as another object in a play situation, like a sticky note with a user need written on it. The sticky functions as the work to write code that meets this need. Planning what to do right now is a play situation. The columns of our kanban board functions as time: future, present and past. (Actually, present seems to be near-future in most kanban implementations – nothing wrong with that.) Moving stickies across the board is a play situation.

Lev Vygotsky taught us that we need a pivot to tear the thought out of the thing. In order to reason about the priorities and the meaning of upcoming tasks, we need objects that represent these tasks. Vygotsky described a child that lets a stick function as a horse: “At that critical moment when a stick – i.e., an object – becomes a pivot for severing the meaning of horse from a real horse, one of the basic psychological structures determining the child’s relationship to reality is radically altered.”

In their book Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2009), Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Berry elaborates further: “Personal Kanban is an information radiator for your work. With it, you understand the impacts and context of your work in real-time. This is where linear to-do lists fall short. Static and devoid of context, they remind us to do a certain number of tasks, but don’t show us valuable real-time information necessary for effective decision  making.” The pivot is an information radiator. Playing with it develops our idea of the object it represents: our work.

Lego Serieous Play is a is a process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. By using Lego bricks as pivots, teams conduct exploratory workshops on various subjects:

  • Strategy development and exploration: Examine and evaluate relations to external partners and clients.
  • Organizational development: For management, teams and individual employees.
  • Innovation and product development: Unleash creative thinking and transform ideas into concrete concepts.
  • Change management: Facilitate and implement structural changes and mergers.
Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

Lego Serious Play in action. (photo by Ulrika Park)

There are many more examples of pivots used in business. In an ever-changing world, we have to understand new concepts every day. By using pivots in a play situation, we tear the idea out of the object and sharpen our understanding of what the object really is.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

8 management ideas for 2013

It’s 2013 now — a new year — and you struggle with inspiration. How can I be a modern manager? Here goes eight management ideas you might want to put more focus on:

1. Autonomous Teams
An autonomous team has skills (cross-functional) and are empowered (self-organized) to make its own decisions. The team has clear constraints for its mission and works towards goals based on outcomes and impacts. Everyone must be comfortable with working in an autonomous team.

2. Beyond Budgeting
Swedish bank SHB has been managed for over 30 years without budgets. Norwegian Statoil is another similar example. Annual budgets encourage managers to focus on making the numbers instead of making a difference. The alternative is dynamic and relative targets, holistic reviews, dynamic forecasts, dynamic resource allocation, and being event-driven rather than calendar-driven.

3. Holistic Thinking
Effect on customer’s or the customer’s customer’s business is more important than whether the individual projects hits estimated time, quality and cost. Fewer parallel projects, less formal roles and more decisions just-in-time makes the organization more flexible to adapt to the prevailing reality. When allocation of individuals is limited to 70-80%, there’s even more room for dynamics. Collaboration and shared goals across the project boundaries increases the total effect. Profitability is more important than cost control.

4. Non-financial incentive models
Team-based incentive programs might reduce the individual’s willingness to corrupt the system. And incentives don’t always have to be financial. With creativity and by listening to the employee, we can discover completely different things that are highly valued by our employees. With digital social tools, some of the rewards may come from colleagues as real-time feedback.

5. Knowledge-creating
Innovation-driven product development is more long-lasting than maintenance driven product development. Successful innovation requires that people from all levels of the organization put effort in monitoring the external environment. New combinations of explicit knowledge need to be internalized and shared by all colleagues. To grow employee’s tacit knowledge (talent) rather than build formal processes (structural capital) gives us an outstanding capacity.

6. Real-time Performance
Rather than annual performance reviews, try 15-30 minutes coordination meetings every week or every second week with your employees. Focus on individual development, not individual measurement. Targets are based on outcomes and impact. The manager’s mission is to help employees achieve their goals by removing impediments.

7. Recruit the right people, rather than the right experience
Don’t overvalue experience from your own field, your tools and your processes when recruiting. Other proficiencies have high value, such as personal energy, ability to complete, ability to learn, social skills, and ability to help the team grow. The new employee shouldn’t only look for the best financial solution. It must be her strategic decision, that this is the best environment for me to grow. She values teamwork and aim for t-shaped skills: depth of related skills and expertise in a single field.

8. Transparency and Visualization
To make all employees feel really involved, decisions must be accessible to everyone. The fact that information is stored somewhere isn’t enough. Abstract views of the current state are visualized on walls of wonder, in office areas where most people are. The visualizations are used as decision support while prioritizing.

And finally, here’s a bonus idea: The office as a laboratory where there´s always small experiments under way.

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC