Everyday Kanban

Discussing Management, Teams, Agile, Lean, Kanban & more

Put your focus on Focus

I’m relatively new in my current job — working on 6 months now. I was speaking with another manager and the conversation drifted to the first changes my team implemented after I joined. But, as every good change agent knows, before you implement changes, you have to orient and observe.

When I came aboard, my team had a sizable backlog and every feature request and bug report was assigned out to members of my team of 8. New items came in daily and items were assigned as soon as they were received, regardless of how long it would be until it got attention. Each team member had handfuls of requests assigned to them plus any work for projects they were working on. Not only that, but each team member took weekly turns being the person that spent time each day figuring out who would be assigned to every new item.

Needless to say, team members felt overwhelmed. They were personally responsible for a mountain of work and they might never reach the summit. Even if they were given a set of priorities within that mountain of work, they still had that stress in the back of their mind of what was looming… awaiting them that they were being held accountable for.

Now, what about the customers? Wow, things get assigned really fast, they could say. But, they never knew which requests were being worked on, what was next and what happened to that thing they asked for a while back. There was frustration because there was no visibility into what was really and truly being worked on.

“My first priority is always to make sure we put the focus on Focus. Not only that, but make that Focus visible.”

The mere act of un-assigning everything that is not being actively worked on will make a difference in the stress level of workers. I’ve had people in my new organization say that they followed my lead on un-assigning their backlog and they also saw a reduced stress level.

In addition, workers are less likely to experience distraction from other work items, concentrate on a smaller set of items and deliver faster. Perhaps they will even deliver better code because they are spending less time context switching.

Customers also get a benefit. The truth of what is actually being worked is no longer wearing a veil. It is completely visible and you can have better conversations about priority instead of repeating the phrase “I haven’t started that yet” over and over and over.

“Your team has a finite capacity regardless of how badly you want it to be infinite.”

Managers, remember that you can’t get water out of a stone. Even with optimization you’ll hit a point where you can only get X amount done. You can’t be afraid to be honest about that. Don’t hide your true capacity. It will only delay better days for your team.

So, take a look and see if your team is truly focused or if they are casting their net a bit too wide. Help your team bring it in. Its a win-win situation.

1 Comment

  1. Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out, Julia. When one’s faced with a mountain of processes that would benefit from change, it can be hard to apply the brakes and stop oneself encouraging a lot of change in quick succession. Sounds like you’re going about it the sensible way: small and incremental. Good luck, David

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