Can You Assign Work Better?

Jim Benson returns to the Business901 podcast next week. His company Modus Cooperandi combine Lean principles from manufacturing, Agile methodologies from software design, and the communications revolutions of social media, as process and tool infrastructure. Jim is best known for his seminal work, Personal Kanban. He is @ourfounder on Twitter. Our conversation centered on his new work, Why Limit WIP: We are Drowning in Work (MemeMachine Series) (Volume 2). Why-Limit-WIP

An excerpt from next week’s podcast: 

Joe:   What are some of the roadblocks I’ll have in starting to assign WIP and getting started in doing a better job than what I’m doing now?

Jim:      The roadblocks are many, and they will come from several different directions. We don’t naturally limit our work in process. It seems alien when you start doing it, and you frequently end up with people doing work that they’re not even aware that they’re doing. So you’ll come up to somebody, and you’ll say, “What are you working on?” And they’ll say this and you’ll say, “I don’t see that on the board…” and they’re like, “Oh, it’s not.” And it’s not that they’re hiding and doing hidden surreptitious work, it’s that they really didn’t know that they were working on something else because we get distracted and we just do things and we have internal narratives that drive us in these directions. And that’s fine, but the problem is that we’ll do that, and then we’ll find out that that little thing that we started doing has suddenly become its own project.

One of the funny things is we’ll setup a personal Kanban for people and they’ll come in in the morning and there will be eight tickets that they know they want to blow through over the course of the day, and they’ll get through the end of the day and they would have only done two of them. They’re like, “Oh my God, I don’t get anything done!” And then we’ll start talking about it and it ends up that they did four or five other things that were very important, it just wasn’t on their board and they never actually thought to put it on their board.

In the Covey matrix, coming back to the Covey matrix where you have the urgent but not important tasks – this is when people come into your office and say, “Do you have a minute to talk about this…” and then an hour after, they leave. Maybe that interruption was bad, but maybe it wasn’t. If I have four people walk into my office over the course of the day and they each talk to me for half an hour and the first three totally waste my time, but the fourth one has some idea that makes the company an extra $7 million or makes me an extra $7 million, that would be nice; were those other three waste?

We spend a lot of our time trying to kill off meetings and trying to stop people from interrupting us, but we’re actually at work in a company to be in the company of other. We’re there to collaborate and sometimes you have to go down a couple of dead-ends; you have to exercise a couple of options that don’t pan out in order to find that fourth one that really does. In knowledge work, there is a cost of obtaining knowledge that is usually paid at the price of doing things that don’t obtain knowledge. We can’t know ahead of time what that fourth meeting is going to be. It’s not like, “I only want the fourth meeting…”

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