“This much should be obvious: You can´t plan to have everyone occupied 100% of their time on fixed-date work, allow them to be interrupted by expedited items, and still expect predictability. Even without the interruptions, 100% utilization on work that must meet stringent deadlines is a recipe not for efficiency, but extreme unpredictability and delay, not to mention pain at human level.” – Mike Burrows in “Kanban from the Inside”, Page 199.
Mike Burrows wrote a great book called “Kanban from the Inside” that contains valuable theory of the Kanban method for product development combined with practical insights. He doesn´t only challenge traditional systems, but also unrealistic expectations of keeping everything in control while dealing with impacts of the unexpected. He concludes, that it is not just the systems that require Slack to absorb variation, it´s also the people in the system who need it.
When did you ever question the habit of putting dates behind each and every activity you are doing? “Until when” seems to be one of the most important questions that a project manager can ask. The same project managers explaining Pareto´s law and the 80:20 rule for getting faster results are expecting that 100% of the actions and tasks that were defined someday need to be done – even when they are not at all important after a while. This behavior puts artificial urgencies to tasks and it becomes harder and harder for people to understand real from “played” priorities.
“Too many teams suffer needlessly by making all of their work datebound, either by squeezing too much work into time boxes, or worse, attaching dates to work items individually. Estimates become commitments.” – Mike Burrows in “Kanban from the Inside”, Page 21.
I believe, that we need to have our Actionlists and date definitions just because we have no better tool to manage and track work and dependencies. A system, allowing transparency about progress by maintaining varying priorities would lead to a significant amount of work items that will not be processed as the priorities do not allow or require. Why on earth should we process them, is it just because someone puts a due date on them?
“Keeping people busy” is one of the most misapplied approach for gaining efficiency in value flow. By this, we take strange decisions. We push more and more work in progress [WiP], resulting in the opposite as intended: slower and slower progression.
“With this thinking, the default response to blocked work is not to solve the ploblem, but to start another piece of work, increasing the amount of WiP in the system. More WiP means more waiting time […]” – Mike Burrows in “Kanban from the Inside”, Page 19.
The more work is processed by a system or team, the more likely it is that blockages, rework and changes occure. Mutlitasting and delays are main contributer to poor product quality (page 19) – what results in even more work to be done in the system.
There is just one way to escape from this systematical downward spiral: Stop prioritizing work that needs to be started – Prioritize the work that needs to be finished!
Mike Burrows, “Kanban from the Inside”: A must-read for Kanban practitioners and those who want to become one!