December 18, 2007

Seek Flow!

I was at a conference back in November on Product Development and Innovation and how to measure your organization success. In one of the talks one of the speaker (Donald G. Reinertsen) on product development said "Seek Flow more than efficiencies".  Talk about rocking my belief system! Someone has to wake up early to tell me efficiencies are not important, or that to run a successful product development shop there are more important things than efficiencies.

Needless to say - It got my attention right away. The whole talk brought memories from classes at University in Operational Research Math, the classes I can honestly say I wasn't paying attention as much as I should have.

The concept he was articulating is simple enough and yet very powerful. By this quote he really means that the flow of an activity, or its pace through the system/processes (Managing the Design Factory) has to be looked into and too often is overlooked.

To give an example: Let's say I come back from the states and I need to go through immigration, and the custom agents , on avg they go through one person a minute. We could say this is a very efficient system.

The example above is unfortunately not the whole picture. What about the time I spend in the waiting queue? This is really where one can measure how things are going. Hence the flow of a unit of work(me) through the system.

The system/processes we design too often focus on the efficiency at the micro level, forgetting the whole picture. Moreover the processes we create too often create context switches, or queues. Every time one creates a queue, one creates delays and kills the flow, which in turns brings productivity down. One can really be efficient at processing a unit of work, still the whole thing be very inefficient .

How does that apply to me - Look for queues, they are an early indicator of things to come in the system. Minimize the size of the queues, and work at minimizing the number of queues in the processes. The longer the queues the longer your feedback loop, and feedback loop in a software manufacture is critical. What's the most obvious queue in Software Development? The bug list - obvious enough right! Reducing its size will improve the flow of the software development activities. He even mentioned a client of his where a developer when going for a new development task, has to pick a testing task if the amount of testing work in the bug queues exceeds 5days.

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