Monday, August 10, 2020

Tempo 2.0 - Chapter 1: Create time to think

I made a mistake 10 years ago: I wrote and published my first management and leadership book, Tempo, in Swedish. That cut off most of my friends in the management community from reading it. It also limited the overall number of people who could read the book.

I have finally decided to do something about it: I am rewriting Tempo to keep it current, and I am doing the rewrite in English.

I will also publish the first draft of each chapter on this blog. You are welcome to read, and also to review and comment. Please click the comment link at the bottom of this post.

Eventually, I'll publish Tempo 2.0 as a book, but this way, I can deliver value early, and with a bit of luck, I can get early feedback from people with many different points of view.

Enough preamble, here is the first draft of the first revised chapter. I do hope you enjoy it.


We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

Have you ever had the feeling that work in your organization could, and should, be a bit easier and smoother than it actually is? You are probably right. Would you like to do something about it? Reduce the pain, and increase the joy, of working? This book is written for you. I do hope you will find the things in here as useful as I have.

There is a little snag I should tell you about upfront. This book will be useful to you only if you do quite a bit of thinking. It is likely that you who read this is a manager or leader. Most managers and leaders I know are intelligent people, but they often lack the time to reflect, think, and learn. That is why we will start by creating a little bit of extra time for you, time to read this book, time to reflect on it, time to practice, and time to focus on the things most important to you and your company.

Starting tomorrow morning, do the following:

Begin each day by asking yourself: What can I do that is of the most benefit to my organization today?

Focus on strategic decisions. Delegate decisions concerning the daily work. Don’t make decisions that can be made by someone else!

Give the people who work for you opportunities to make decisions of their own. Even if they make decisions that are worse than the ones you would have made, your company will still benefit, because it frees you up to make really good decisions about things that are important.

I recommend that your first really important decision will be to read the rest of this book.

Oh, and you will also need to practice, and reflect on what you learn. To really know something, you will have to spend a lot more time practicing than reading about it. It is by practice you learn skills and form new habits.

Is learning worth your time?

Acquiring a new habit requires quite a bit of effort. Letting go of old ones is even harder. Is it worth it? Ultimately, only you can decide if it is worth it for you, but let’s do a simple thought  experiment1 to think it through.

It is by no means a very accurate experiment. Nevertheless, it can serve as a guide on how to think about the value of learning useful things.

Reading this book, learning what’s in it, practicing it, and applying it, requires time. You may regard that time as an investment. So, how much time is it reasonable for you to invest?

What is the value of your learning time?

Let’s say you work alone, or that you only want to improve your personal life. You use what you will learn from this book to either reduce the time it takes to execute a recurring task, or to change the process so you can eliminate it entirely.

This is just a very rough approximation, so lets say you work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. To simplify a bit, lets say a month is always four weeks, and that you work 12 months per year. You want to recoup the time you spend improving your process within 5 years.

Thus, if you want to save 1 hour on a daily task, how many hours can you spend improving your process?

The task is daily, so you will perform it 5 times per week, 20 times per month, or 240 times per year. In five years, you will perform the task 1200 times. The task took 1 hour each time, so if you spend less than 1200 hours improving it, you will come out ahead.

Given your 40 hour work week, you can spend up to 30 weeks learning how to shave off 1 hour on your daily task.

Let’s construct a table for this:

 

Frequency of Task

Time Saved

1/Hour

1/Day

1/Week

1/Fortnight

1/Month

1/Quarter

1/Year

1 Hour

9600

1200

240

120

60

20

5

1 day

 

9600

1920

960

480

160

40

1 Week

 

 

9600

4800

2400

800

200

2 Weeks

 

 

 

9600

4800

1600

400

1 Month

 

 

 

 

9600

3200

800

1 Quarter

 

 

 

 

 

9600

2400

6 Months

 

 

 

 

 

 

4800

1 Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

9600

Let it sink in: You can spend up to 30 weeks on learning how to shave 1 hour off your daily schedule, and you will come out ahead, in terms of time spent.

Let’s say you are a writer. It takes you 6 months to write a book. Assuming you can reduce that time to 3 months, you will save 3 months. That is 1 quarter. So far, you have been able to write 2 books per year.

We do not have a 2 per year column in the table, but we can look along the 1 Quarter row, at the 1 per year column, and see that if we publish 1 book per year, we could spent up to 2400 hours learning how to produce a book faster. We can double that for 2 books per year, so it is worth learning if we can spend less than 4800 hours learning it.

That is 120 weeks, which is about 2 years, 3 months.

How realistic is that? Well, my first management book, the original version of Tempo, took more than 2 years to write. The book after that, the anthology LESS!, took about 1 year.

The next time I considered writing a book, I thought: What if I apply the things I write about to my own writing process?

I did, and wrote and published a book in less than 2 weeks. I tried it again, and did it in less than 2 weeks, from planning to publishing.

The third time, I wrote a book about how to write and publish a book in two weeks, in less than two weeks. It was a close call the last time. As I recall, I published on the 14th day.

Here is the thing: I was, and still am, a slow writer. I did not learn how to write faster, I removed delays in the process, and I reduced the size of transfer batches! Exactly what that means, is something you will learn in this book. The ideas I used are from manufacturing, from software development, and from mathematics. I just applied them to an area where few people had applied them before.

There was one thing that did not go as planned: I tried to spread my ideas about optimizing the writing process among other writers. Most just ignored me, and more than a few got upset. The very idea that someone could write a book in two weeks was an affront. At the very least, it had to be by working harder, not by working smarter.2

The value of knowledge increases when more people use it!

It is time to push our thought experiment a couple of steps further.

Let’s assume that you are responsible for, or at least have influence over, how people other than yourself work. Let’s also assume that you are prepared to risk riling up an angry mob, or getting burned at the stake for witchcraft, or, that you work with colleagues, and for a boss that likes you to stir things up a bit.

If you can influence the way 10 people work, what will the table look like then?

I’ll switch the scale from hours to days, in order to keep the numbers reasonable.

 

Frequency of Task

Time Saved

1/Hour

1/Day

1/Week

1/Fortnight

1/Month

1/Quarter

1/Year

1 Hour

12000

1500

300

150

75

25

6.25

1 day

 

12000

2400

1200

600

200

50

1 Week

 

 

12000

6000

3000

1000

250

2 Weeks

 

 

 

12000

6000

2000

500

1 Month

 

 

 

 

12000

4000

1000

1 Quarter

 

 

 

 

 

12000

3000

6 Months

 

 

 

 

 

 

6000

1 Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

12000

 

If you, for example, run a somewhat large-ish software development team of 10 people, and you work in 2 week cycles (these are often called sprints), and it takes the team 1 day to deploy what the team has built at the end of each cycle, then you could spend up to 1200 person days, or more than 3 person years, on automating the deployment process, and it would be worth it.

If you are in the software business, you might want to argue that it would not take the whole team one day to deploy software to production, even if they do it manually. Well, if you count all the associated processes that might require manual work, like testing, meetings, getting permissions for this and that, it might well be more than 1 team day.

It is still common that projects and programs spend maybe a couple of weeks, build something that almost works, and then move on to other work, leaving them with incredibly costly manual or partly automated processes. Nobody knows how expensive, because nobody does the math!

Some of you who read this might have greater responsibilities than a single team. What if you run a large software development program, or department?

Let’s forget the tables, and just have an example for 100 people:

Let’s say you run a project at a pharmaceutical company. It is a small one, just 100 people. You are developing a new drug. Doing that can take a decade, and it is not every project that results in something usable.

If you have a dud, and have had 100 people working on developing it for 10 years, you have lost truckloads of time and money.

Lets say clinical trials normally take 6 years, out of those 10 years. If you can reduce the clinical trial period by 2 years, you can stop a failed project two years earlier than before.

That means you save 200 person years.

We could scale this up to 1,000 people, and more, but I think you get the idea:

It pays to know things!
A relatively small investment in learning new things, can give you an enormous payoff!

We are used to believing that if something will give us a great advantage, it has to be something really complicated and difficult to understand.3 Sometimes that is true. To build a rocket that can take humans to Mars and back, or a safe self-driving car, you need to know a lot of really complicated stuff.

On the other hand, there are also many things that are both useful and relatively simple. This book is about some of those things.

If you try to implement what is in this book, you will become acutely aware that simple is very different from easy. On the up side, you might also find that it is surprisingly interesting and fun.

Takeaways

  Figure out the one most valuable thing you can do for your company today. Do it!

  Delegate decisions that can be made by someone else.

  Knowledge is valuable! A little time invested in learning, can yield great results.

  Knowledge increases in value when you spread it in your organization.

  Read a little, practice a lot! Repeat!



1 I got the original idea for this thought experiment from the comic XQCD. I have just adapted and extended the idea a bit, and merged it with my own practical experiences.

2 Some famous authors, like Georges Simenon, and Michael Moorcock, used to write books in two weeks or even less. It is worth noting that they did it without the quality suffering.

3 There is a name for this cognitive bias: Proportionality bias is the belief that large effects must have large causes.

No comments: