Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Road To Productivity: Reduce WIP

Looking to boost your productivity? The first and best way forward is to remove the leeches. Leeches suck the very life blood out of you and drain your ability to drive to completion on tasks and larger goals. There are many leeches of course, but one that has gotten my attention over the last few months has been WIP (Work In Progress).

David Allen discusses WIP in Getting Things Done when he talks about how the mind can only hold so much at once and every undone thing on your todo list in your head saps your brain power that could be applied more productively to the current task. David’s whole process centers around driving every “thing to do” into a few simple lists that you can process.

The Agile Software community has gone to creating software products by breaking the product into a list of simple user stories. The team then works on ONE STORY at a time. Developers are often tempted to start another story every time they hit a roadblock on the current story. The Product Owner and Scrum Master must keep them from doing this. Why? Read on.

We can not really work on more than one problem at a time. That is the myth of multi-tasking. We can only really do one thing. When we try to do more that that one thing, we end up switching between tasks and this takes time and energy, just to swap to the next thing. So there is overhead cost for each additional thing. Plus, then the background brain keeps worried about the things not being worked (David Allen).

In the Movie City Slickers, Jack Palance plays the character Curly Washburn who has a line “Just One Thing.” Now the point of the line is different from my point here. My point here is “Just One Thing” until it’s done. Then take the next and that becomes the “Just One Thing.” If we always have only one thing at any given moment, then there is zero WIP, and thus zero overhead.

Reducing WIP is just learning how to focus. It can be a chore for some of us, but it is well worth the effort. Getting to zero WIP is the goal, but every bit of WIP we eliminate goes back into our productivity bank.

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