Whether you believe in God or not, the story of Genesis is an excellent example of doing one thing at a time.
As you probably know, God created our world in just seven days (vacation included)- by completing one major deliverable every day, which was made up of smaller, manageable tasks.
Of course, things are never that simple. On the third day, God completed not one, but TWO tasks. Why? Wait for the end of the post to find out :)
So what do I mean by saying that God does Kanban and God has a limited WIP? I actually mean, that God avoids multi tasking and getting things done by controlling the load of its tasks.
Well, WIP, as you know, is Work In Progress. In Agile, it refers to all materials and partly finished products that are at various stages of the production process.
Comparing it to an industry production line: In Genesis, God put his materials in one end, ran it through the production line, and got the magnificent outcome on the other end - Our world.
Don’t take me literally,obviously, but just look at the pattern here. Each day, God selected one deliverable with a related value, and each deliverable was composed of few small tasks, each done one at a time. At the end of each day (deliverable) God took one step back, looked at the creation (demo), and took up where he left off the next day.
This is an excellent example that shows you about WIP limitations. Doing one thing at a time, and challenging yourself to achieve more according to your limits. Obviously, God doesn’t have a limit. But perhaps he was trying to teach us to do one thing at a time, by example.
Control your WIP (work in progress): It’s simple. When we do more than we can handle, we probably won’t complete anything. Starting a lot of tasks at once, doing a little bit of everything, means that you finish late, or not at all. This also means that we have to understand what we are capable of, the size and issues we can grasp in one time.
Start finishing and finish starting.
Doing just a little bit from everything means you don’t do anything.
An easy example of limiting your WIP is having to attend two meetings at the same time. That’s easy. You pick one - and go to it. But what about preparing a presentation, writing a blog post, checking your email, preparing for a meeting with your team, and researching stuff for your manager. If you start all that at the same time, you won’t get any of it done, and you’ll end up missing your presentation, not answering all your emails, and meeting your team unprepared.
Now think about your kid. You’re telling him to clean his room, do his homework, feed the dog, clear the table, brush his teeth, take out the trash.... that could confuse even God :)
So how do we handle it then? How can we create our own small world, in such we can do valuable things and deliver the outcome?
Start off by making it clear (to yourself as well) that you are expected to do ‘one thing at a time’.
Then, order your tasks by schedule, priority or importance.
Make sure to start doing things with value first.
So lets take the previous example. You need to prepare a presentation next week? Start today by creating the presentation outline (‘Small task’) and send it along to get early feedback. Treating the ‘prepare presentation’ task as one big one means that your definition of done means that you have to finish the presentation today. This will affect your ability to complete your other tasks, so make sure you start and finish the scope of work as you defined it. Don’t leave unfinished tasks around.
Pick one task, complete it , and then take the next task in line. In time, you’ll see how many tasks you can perform at the same time, but to start off with, it’s better to complete one task at a time, than start five, and not complete any of them.
In industrial factories, an incomplete cycle of work is called inventory. Factories can’t sell inventory. Inventory takes up space, which you pay for. Inventory needs to be maintained, which you pay for. Inventory is waste.
In our personal life, we pay for that wasted inventory with delays, stress and overtime, just because we try to keep up with too many tasks.
Context switching (jumping from one task to another without completing either) is another way to get little or no value from our tasks.
A nice story a friend just told me the other day about a typical Kanban situation at home illustrates another example of the same problem:
“It was Friday noon, and we were preparing for our daughter birthday party. I was with my hands in the pizza dough, and my wife said: I can’t really help you, so I’ll bake a cake for us to eat during the week. In theory, there’s no problem. But when I needed the blender, it was dirty with chocolate and I had to wash it. When I wanted to use the oven, I had to wait 40 minutes for the cake to be done.
I should have told her to just relax and drink some coffee, or put some music and chat with me, instead!”
The value = daughter birthday party ➔ pizza : was not achieved
The resources= help from others with the blender, oven. : was not available
Over doing =using the oven as a resource to bake a cake while at the same time the pizza (which holds more value) needs the same resource.
Following the concept of ‘doing one thing at a time ‘ will be made easier when you visualize your tasks on a task board. The task board will help you see your tasks, prioritize them, understand your limits and challenge yourself toward improvement.
So… doing one thing time, it’s easier when , We understands that :
- When we do more than we can handle, we probably won’t complete anything.
- Context switching (jumping from one task to another without completing either) is another way to get little or no value from our tasks.
- Doing just a little bit from everything means you don’t do anything.
- Start finishing and finish starting.
So the actions applies will be:
1. Visualize your tasks. Use a task board.
2. Set priority to the things you need to do (see important vs urgent)
3. Pull one task, complete it , and then pull the next task in line. make sure you start and finish the scope of work as you defined it. Don’t leave unfinished tasks around.
4. Divide big assignments into smaller ones that have value (see how God took two small tasks on Tuesday?)
5. Understand your resources and limits demanding to perform the tasks.
6. Stick to doing what has the most value – even if it means not doing something else.
7. Look back at your results. Retrospect and change if necessary
8. Learn and adapt to your abilities. Once in a while, challenge yourself to take more tasks (although not in parallel!), just as God did on Tuesday.
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