Busy but not productive
Share with othersEveryone says they are busy. They are often on video or conference calls all day. Workers receive an average of over 100 emails per day, and send at most 40. Common complaints include, “I spend my whole day meeting and doing emails; and have no time to do my’real work’.”
After listening to a podcast about remote work, I thought back to my 1990s experience with distributed teams. We were still in the dark ages. There was no Wi-Fi, Internet speeds were only a fraction of what they are today, video conferences were held in dedicated facilities, and Lotus Notes was our primary collaborative platform.
Despite our limited technology, we were (in mine) at least as productive as most people today. Personal computers made it possible to increase labor productivity. However, productivity rates rose in the mid-1990s. They declined in the early 2000s. But productivity rates have remained stable. Stress levels are higher than they were 30 years ago. This stress has been fueled by the constant stream of information and the need to be connected.
The secrets to becoming more productive and reclaiming your time are right in front of you. It is easy to apply the principles of lean-agile leadership. Lean, Kanban and Scrum are the foundational practices that allow us to concentrate on “real work.”
Create value and measure progress
Both agile and traditional project management measure progress by creating value. Traditional projects are broken down into smaller, more defined work packages. Agile breaks down projects into epics and features.
It is easier to measure and define progress when you are creating something tangible, such as a building or road. It is more difficult to determine outputs and evaluate progress in the service economy, knowledge work (e.g. writing reports or software development).
We tend to focus on effort rather than progress, and fall prey to the 90-90 Rule. 90% of the work is done in the first 90%. The remaining 10% takes 90% of the time. I can write the first draft in two hours, and then it takes me 10 hours to edit.
It is important to return to the basics, define our work, measure our progress through the delivery and measurement of value. Before we can start working, it is important to clearly define the problem and the desired outcomes. Complexity is best dealt with in the context of a solution.
It helps us focus our attention and keep us on track. It will also make us feel more productive. Sadly, 75% of people doubt whether they have achieved anything each day. This is a demoralizing statistic.
Make work visible
Kanban is a flow-based management system that was originally developed to reduce manufacturing and inventory costs. These techniques are widely used in a variety of industries, including software development, operations support and non-profit management.
Kanban boards allow us to visualize, track, manage, and organize our personal work as well as that of our teams. A Kanban board’s simplest form is a 3-column chart that shows the backlog of work (to do), work being done (doing), as well as the completed (done) status. Work items can be described as sticky notes or index cards. Prioritizing backlog items is done according to what has the greatest value.
The work items should be small enough that they can be completed in a few days. Additionally, work items should have clearly defined deliverables (or outcomes) that can be completed in a binary fashion (done/not done). If you are having trouble organizing a program planning meeting, for example, it is important to break down the tasks into smaller pieces such as reserving facilities, creating an agenda and inviting attendees, and confirming that each team is prepared.
A powerful dynamic is created when you define work in small, discrete deliverables. Once they are marked as “done”, it becomes easy to identify the work. Most people don’t realize that there are many things you can do to make your work more efficient.