“Your Focus Needs More Focus”

Teamwork is a core principle of agility, but it’s one that businesses often have difficulty adopting.  In corporate America, managers don’t want five employees working on one project– they want them working on five. Why squander productivity? At one point in my career I worked on a team of brilliant soloists. The people on my team didn’t often collaborate, but that made sense. With each person producing value, we were dividing and conquering. We could tell twelve different executives and stakeholders that their project was our priority and was actively underway.  We didn’t have to slow down and explain our work or compromise.  We were getting more done! Except that we weren’t. We were getting more started. As Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) says in the 2010 Karate Kid, “Your focus needs more focus.”

  • Completion of Low-Value Projects

Our WIP (work in progress) was very high, and our rate of work was slow.  Because the priority of projects was evaluated by the importance of the executive sponsor and the time we received the request (first come, first serve), a new project with enterprise-wide impact might not get assigned to someone until three or four lower impact projects were finished.  Fast-tracking a valuable project required lobbying and luck. [Solution: Prioritize your projects and work on the highest value item.]

  •   Project Injections

Frequently we’d have to stop work on a project because a different executive or leader in the company asked us to complete a different piece of work. The guiding priorities of the department seemed to be, “Who is most important and/or screaming the loudest?” Tactical, consistent, strategic prioritization was nowhere to be found. [Solution: Set your WIP limits low and work with leadership to understand the impact of injections on time and budget.]

  •  Lower Quality of Work

Because we were working on multiple projects simultaneously, we might use the same technique on five projects before hearing from customers that they didn’t like it. Feedback was slow to reach us and often required re-work. We also weren’t learning from each other; we were just doing what we felt was best over and over. [Create feedback loops with teammates and customers. Look for ways to shorten the feedback loops and learn faster.]

  •  Slow Time to Market

But, most importantly, finished work was not getting to our customers quickly. The collective speed of our department was dispersed across a wide array of initiatives. What might have been delivered in two weeks by three people was delivered in two months by one. Don’t make our mistake. Work together to create a clear, consistent method of prioritizing work, (consider using t-shirt sizing to estimate the impact of the project and the effort it requires), then focus your resources on completing the highest priority together. This creates agreement on priorities, swifter project completion, more perspectives and feedback from your teammates, and clear visibility into the process.

Take-Aways: Team work, prioritization, feedback and focus will help you deliver value to your customer quickly.

Questions: Do you agree? Disagree? What behaviors have you witnessed in inefficient teams? What tools have helped your team focus?

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