• Von Arjan de Jong
  • Veröffentlicht am Montag, 6. Mai 2019 - 18:10

So you would like to be efficient?

To finish first, first you have to finish.

Not too long ago, I ran the Vienna City half marathon. Running longer distances gives my mind the opportunity to wander, and one of the points my mind wandered on, is how my race that April morning was a nice metaphor for a theme that has been accompanying me for quite a time now: 'effectiveness before efficiency'.

Goals for such races are fairly simple. For most people around me and in the start waves behind me, the goal could best be described as ‘reach the finish line’. Some people might add ‘and having fun while doing it’ or ‘as fast as possible’.
As I walked into the starting area, I did not know how my race would be. I had missed too many training sessions to even have a clue about it. So, I decided I would be happy with any finish time. When I saw a ‘das Ziel ist das Ziel’ shirt in front of me, I decided to use that sentence as my race motto.
But as I ran my race, I noticed that I was faring better than I could have hoped for. Somewhere around the 10km mark, I decided that I was doing good enough for an attack on my personal best time. At the 15 km mark, I reaffirmed my decision. At the finish line, I was happy with the result, mainly because I made it to the finish in one piece.

Back to ‘effectiveness before efficiency’. During coaching and training, we often get a variation on the question ‘how can I become more efficient?’. Grabbing the metaphor above, let’s look at the goal of most teams.
I’ll give you a moment to think about your team’s overall goal before moving on.

Was it a version of ‘to make the best possible product for our customers’?
Maybe with a ‘in the given time’ or ‘while having fun’ tacked on?
Many teams have a similar goal. Sure, they do different things to reach that goal, but the goal is similar.
Here we run into our first problem. Unlike our race metaphor, where the finish line is drawn between the Rathausplatz and the Burgtheater for all participants, the goal of many teams is open to interpretation.

Just what is the ‘best possible product’? Some might be primarily focused on a product that solves the biggest problems of your customers. Some might say that it is a system that simply does its job, without errors or instability. Still others will focus on the product’s ability to tie into the existing landscape. Truth is, we simply do not know how the best product will look like before we’ve created it. And I didn’t even get started on the question who your customers are. There are plenty of teams that aren’t even all too sure about the answer to that question.
Given all this uncertainty, even the most mature teams might struggle with hitting the goal. Just getting a step closer to the best possible product can be a daunting task in and by itself.

And that is where the question ‘how can I become more efficient’ triggers me. Asking how to be efficient is useless if you don’t learn how to be effective first. It is like running your first ever marathon and aiming for a sub 3:00 time. It conjures up images of Monty Python’s ‘100 yard for people without sense of direction’ sketch.

May I offer a few questions?
  • What would it be like if you would treat your first few Scrum Sprints like a first marathon?
  • How would it feel if you would just treat your team like heroes for reaching the finish line and bringing your product one step closer to the best possible product?
  • Is there anything the team could measure that would validate if they are moving in direction of the best possible product?
  • Does the team do things that do not move them in the right direction? Might it be possible to remove these things from the team?

Maybe, after a couple of Sprints, your team believes they can attempt to improve their efficiency. If the team really believes that, let them make the attempt, and support them, because these improvements aren’t easy. In fact, when an athlete attempts to improve a personal best time, a national record or a world record, the Dutch use the word attack. You attempt an attack on your personal best. And attacks are risky. They cost effort, and any time someone attacks, there is the risk of the attack backfiring. The team will have the same experience. Their attempt to improve efficiency may work if they give their best. But it might also prove to cost too much effort, or even decrease effectivity or quality.
In fact, during my race, I hit a rough state around the 17 km mark. I had to convince my body that I would just have to push through this rough state for 1 more km and it would be better. And the same happened around the 18 km mark.
Should this happen to the team, then ask a question.
  • If we could give our customers one more feature, which one would we give them?
  • What do we need to do to make that one feature reality?
  • What would a good step into that direction look like?
  • Can we take that one step? Then let’s do that and worry about the other steps later.

So, in stead of focusing on efficiency, we’ll focus on effectiveness.

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