You’ve probably tried it: An email arrives from the boss marked “URGENT! Must be solved immediately! Or the customer will terminate the agreement!” with a task that is not in the sprint. How do you handle this? Should you clear your desk and solve the task? Or deal with it when you’ve finished what you are doing and risk the boss getting angry at you? It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils.
First I would like to say: You are not alone! Being put in this situation is not a unique occurrence – sadly. It’s a common misunderstanding that it’s easy to squeeze in an extra task without consequences and with it being solves ASAP. But that’s not how it truly is! When squeezing in a task you don’t also get assigned more hours in a day. So squeezing in more assignments will naturally mean pushing out other tasks. It seems logical, but the world isn’t always as logical as you’d sometimes wish.
That’s why it’s smart to use fixed systems and procedures for how to do things: How do new tasks enter the playing field? How are the tasks prioritized? And who does what? That’s just a few of the questions that must be dealt with if production must run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
We have a suggestion for a good solution. You might have guessed because it involves Scrum. But before you get the explanation I’ll give you a look into why squeezing in a task actually means it will be solved later than needed.
Why is this not true?
There are several reasons why tasks being pushed and squeezed is the worst thing you can do to productivity in a team. I will take out just three of these and present to you because they are the most surprising to most bosses.
First of all it takes up to 20 minutes from being interrupted to getting back to full focus on the task at hand. So even a small task that only takes 5 minutes might take out more time than expected.
Secondly we use a lot of mental energy on changing focus. It matters a lot on how fast we solve a task if we have mental energy. Imagine a morning before waking up: That’s not when you solve complex tasks, is it? You’d rather take care of that when you are awake and fresh. For every shift in tasks you use mental energy. When the energy is gone it takes even more time getting back on track. And as an extra bonus – the risk of making a mistake is a lot higher when the energy is gone.
Third the entire planing of the day will fall through. One thing is ruining your own plans – it takes time and mental energy changing plans. But what about your colleges? They might not be able to continue until you finish your part of the task. So they have to wait for you to finish a task that the boss thought “wasn’t much”. When one more task enters the day doesn’t get longer. No, when a task enters and is prioritized – another task is not solved.
But then why do they do it?
When I ask bosses or leaders why they do this the answers I get are widely different, but the causes are usually the same. The cause that shows up most is uncertainty. If they don’t do it now then when? Will it be included in a release in 2 years? Who will take care of it? If it will take 2 years it will be way too late.
Another cause is insecurity or lack of trust. This is usually expressed as “Last time I had a task that needed solving it was forgotten and I had to keep reminding them time and time again to make sure it was solved”. Lack of insight into what the team is doing makes it hard to know where the task has landed and what status is on it. It’s not about control over the team and checking if they’ve done this or that. It’s only about getting a status on the task.
A last cause I often hear is a lack of control on the prioritizing. That they simply don’t know how to get a task through before something else that’s already being done. Because it does actually happen that a task appears that’s more important than the ongoing tasks. What is there to do then? How do you approach in the team to change the priority? Who in the team has the “power” to do this?
If you look at it all together it’s about insight, overview and control. Insight into that goes on so you can get a status. Overview of the process and the plan. And control to change the process and the plan when necessary.
So it’s not because someone outside the team is standing there ready to throw gravel into the machinery. No one actively wants it to be slower or more difficult. It’s only good intentions that turn out another way because the systems and procedures aren’t designed in a way that restricts the intentions in showing in a better light.
CHANGE the workflow and procedures.
Our proposal is to use SCRUM and change the workflow and procedures so the good intentions can unfold in a constructive and positive way. That will give happy clients and happy colleges. If you choose to use Scrum as a system for workflow and procedures it will give the team and those outside the tem a greater insight, overview and control over what is actually going on.
Here’s a short explanation on how Scrum gives more insight, overview and control:
In Scrum all tasks are marked in a system. It can be Jira, Liquidplaner or something other. In that system all tasks are present. The team regularly updates status on the tasks so anyone interested outside the team can follow. A status will be available when needed – the team does not need to use time on making and giving reports whenever requested.
In the same system there’s an active sprint and 3-4 coming sprints. Info about what will be included in the next release and future releases is therefore easily accessible. It give a good overview 2-3 months ahead (when a sprint is 2-3 weeks). If the task is included in the planned sprint you know how many weeks will pass until it’s solved.
Planning future sprints it’s easy to take out some tasks and add others.
How does the boss react?
My experience is that the boss will be happy! Very happy actually! Because the uncertainty will disappear and the control will reappear. A horizon of 2-3 weeks to get a task solved is fine for mostp eople – as long as you know and can plan accordingly.
So if you have problems with a boss pressing tasks through then show him or her this and say that we are open to talking about how to make it all work. This way it will get easier for the boss, clients and the team.