Sunday, June 25, 2017

Can’t I multitask at least a little?

One of the questions that arises almost every time a new Kanban system comes to live is something like “But if I work on tasks in different stations (columns) then my personal WIP-limit has to be bigger than one, right?”


Let me answer this by a simple calculation:

Given the cold hard truth that multitasking actually means task-switching there is a very simple formula to calculate your effectiveness for the average task you are working on:

If n is the number of concurrent tasks, then each task is idling around (n-1)/n of the time.

If you work on one task at a time this formula yields zero. Because the task is never left neglected and you work on it all the time.

If you work on two tasks at a time, each of them is idling around 1/2 the time. On average.

If you work on three tasks at a time, each of them is idling around 2/3 of the time. On average.

If you work on eight tasks at a time, each of them is idling around 7/8 of the time. On average.

Or to put it in percentages

  • 1 task: 100% active, 0% idle
  • 2 tasks: 50% active, 50% idle
  • 3 tasks: 33% active, 66% idle
  • 8 tasks: 12,5% active, 87,5% idle

This means that a task that would take an hour on average will take 8 hours if you multitask 8 fold. On average. And that’s not even taking any costs into account for context switching!

So, yes can multitask a little, but –like magic– multitasking comes at a price. Be sure you are willing to pay it.

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The round table - or how to make remote meetings (more) fair

Don’t single people out

In my opinion the worst way to have a remote meeting (aka conference call) is to have a bunch of people sitting around a phone while one person is sitting somewhere else alone in front of the phone. Even though the “80% of communication is non-verbal” theory from 1972 is mostly misinterpreted, a large amount of communication is not in the words alone. So this dysfunctional teleconference scenario deprives the single person of all the nodding, pointing, smiling, looking at the mobile, doodling on a notepad etc. of the communication.

Even a singe camera on the side of the many and a display on the side of the one person makes it way more balanced.

Two way video isn’t a bad idea either.

Don’t use huge video conferencing rooms

In theory, it is a nice idea to have two rooms equipped with high quality video gear and really large screens, so that it almost seems as if people sit in only one room.
In the real world this doesn’t work most of the time. Foremost because the two video conferencing rooms very often are reduced to two laptops at the ends of two conference tables.

Level the playing field

Yes, we all know that in person meetings are better than remote meetings, but if we have to do them, why not ornanize them in a truly balanced manner with equal rights to all attendees?

We live in a time where bandwidth doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore in most areas. The average TV nowadays sports a resolution of 4K. Even most office displays are capable of HD or better. So why don’t we go the easy way and instead of congregating in locations where we skew the communication channels, just use state of the art video conferencing software that allows for a gallery view of a dozen or so participants from our workstations so that all the participants have the same environmental conditions?

But I don’t like to be on video

Why not?
What is really worse when you’re on video compared to a real live meeting?
Of course you can’t (or shouldn’t) be in front of the camera in pyjamas and you probably can’t play World of Warcraft while on the call, but then again: would you do that in a live meeting? And if the virtual meeting is not that important, then it’s probably a good idea to say so and find better ways to make use of the time for all parties concerned.

But our company policy doesn’t allow for it

But hey, the upside is that you just identified a really huge cultural problem, that you and your colleagues can work on.

till next time

  Michael Mahlberg