We'd like to share a simple exercise that helps people understand how hard it is to be productive when they get too busy.  You can do this on your own (it only takes 5 minutes) or you can try it with an audience.
We call it the "GET IT ALL DONE NOW" Game :-)
The game works particularly well with larger audiences (any size theoretically).
Before you start: Make sure you have 15 minutes set aside for the whole exercise and make sure your audience is armed with a pen and a piece of paper each.  
As the facilitator you'll need a white board or flip-chart to write up the results.   Prepare something like this:

Display a presentation slide (or poster) with the following three lines:

Here's the back story to set the scene for your audience:
"...You're each employed by our company and you are here to serve these three customers as quickly as possible.  Your job will be to write down these three lines on your own piece of paper but there's a catch..."
"The catch is...
a) We have a strict company policy that no customer should be left waiting so you will need to deliver all three sentences at once and
b) We like to measure how fast this happens so please put your hand up when you have completed the task
Setup a stopwatch that has a lap timer feature (smart phone apps tend to work well). 
Check for any questions and then launch the exercise!  
Take a 'lap' time every time someone raises their hand until everyone is done then stop the clock. 
Jot down the results... a) Earliest finish time...  b) latest finish time...  c) approximate average time....
Move on to STEP 3

Note: The pattern should look something like this... all three customer jobs simultaneous

"...Well done everyone...  OK, our company has been learning about LEAN thinking and we've decided to fire the previous manager and establish a new customer policy...  We're going to rerun the exercise only this time you're only allowed to work on one customer at a time..."
Check for any questions and then launch the second exercise!  
Take a 'lap' time every time someone raises their hand until everyone is done then stop the clock. 
Jot down the results... a) Earliest finish time...  b) latest finish time...  c) approximate average time....
Move on to STEP 4

Note: the pattern should look something like this

Try to get your audience to share their experiences...  Some questions to get things started might be:
·       How did the first run feel? chaotic... difficult... 
·       How did the second run feel in comparison? easier... more flow... smoother
·       Which approach gave the fastest overall response?
·       Which approach gave the fastest time to first value?
·       Which approach felt more productive and less wasteful?
By the end of the exercise you should have something like this: 

Some of the key insights to conclude with:
·       Limiting Work-In-Progress increases throughput
·       Focusing on one thing at a time is faster, better and cheaper... every time
·       Teams that are able to focus on less tend to deliver better quality, faster and are more able to sustain their pace (i.e. achieve their flow state).
So why doesn't everyone understand and use these principles more widely you might ask?  Well there is a traditional management view (that's still very prevalent) that compels managers to make sure that every employee is utilized to the maximum.... in other words, it's important that everyone is kept busy... all the time...  This approach directly undermines productive throughput and prevents teams from finding their true potential.  

P.s. We hope you found this article useful and if you do use this exercise please let us know how it went :-)

9 Project Management Commandments to live by

I'm coaching a very successful software company in Auckland on the finer points of Project Management.  The 9 commandments that follow represent an accumulation of wisdom that has served me well over the years.  Please feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.
  1. Begin with the end in mind
    • Plan the flight... then fly the plan
    • Pause for agreement and clarity before implementing
    • Stay wedded to the outcome, not the path for getting there
    • The worst time to define success is after it’s over
  2. Manage by result, not activity
    • An active team is not necessarily a productive team
    • Focus on Throughput
    • Limit Work in Progress
    • Learn to use teams to achieve results... not individuals.
  3. Compromise on scope not quality
    • Define ‘quality’ upfront (e.g. verification criteria)
    • Understand technical debt
    • Learn to recognize an ‘interest’ payment from a ‘capital’ payment. (i.e. treat causes as well as effects)
  4. Escalate early and often (e.g. 2X2X2 Escalation)
    • 2 minutes to explain the issue
    • 2 minutes to describe options
    • 2 minutes to make a decision on what to do next
  5. Continuous Course Correction
    • Invest in short regular planning exercises.
    • The act of planning is more valuable than the plan!
    • Learn to surface impediments/blockers regularly
    • Planning exercises are for planning the work not doing the work!
  6. Serve your team
    • Enable your teams with clear decisions, clear priorities and lot’s of encouragement
    • Double the rate of failure!
    • Trust your experts
  7. Manage the context
    • Maintain situational awareness outside of the team
    • Make yourself aware of ALL the stakeholders
    • Create an atmosphere that celebrates failure as a learning experience
    • Communicate little bits of news often!
    • Credibility is critical to building trust
    • Do What You Said You Would Do When You Said You Would Do It .
  9. Retire risk early
    • Tiger cubs are easier to deal with than tigers!
    • Prioritize first... sequence last.

How can corporations best fight atrophy?

How can corporations best fight atrophy?

I was listening to a podcast a while back* by Ried Hoffman (who started LinkedIn and Paypal) and something he said got me thinking about corporate atrophy**.

Ried mentioned how easy it was for Paypal to out maneuver the larger banking bodies during the startup phase. They were busy testing the legal definition of a bank with their online offering and the banks were squirming and nearly powerless to respond. In fact some of the banks online counter offerings took in excess of 12 months to deliver... as Ried correctly points out, thats an eon in internet time!

Just how did the banks get to this lethargic state?

And how can they (or any large corporate body for that matter) hope to compete in this rapidly changing business environment.

More to the point, How can corporations best fight this atrophy?

*For Rieds Podcast: 
** Definition of atrophy:

I posted this question in LinkedIn and got quite a few interesting suggestions back:

Mergers & Acquisitions
>>Let others take the big risks and buy them up when they look promising.

Various forms of Internal Entrepreneurialism
>> Google have an interesting internal policy where they allow thier employees to use 20% of their worktime to work on anything they want. They have enjoyed an enormous amount of success from the projects resourced this way.