Break It Down to Build It Back Up

Photomat @

For years, decades, perhaps centuries, we’ve managed businesses in the same way.  The same “traditional” way.  The Age of Agile deconstructs that traditional method and shows how traditional methods are no longer applicable in today’s society.  They weren’t applicable ten or twenty years ago either, but now there is a significant momentum changing how business needs to operate.

But what about people?  How can people within the organization change?  The business may be optimized for the new world, but if the people aren’t working in sync with the business all of those changes are for naught.

How do people change to be better at their jobs?

Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More uses analytics to determine seven key things that can significantly increase your productivity.  Some of these insights are profound in that they significantly shift how we do our work and what work we actually do.

Let’s take a look at the first of the seven key factors:

Do less … then obsess

This is really quite easy to conceptualize, but may be more difficult to implement.  This one item actually has the biggest impact on a persons’ productivity.  The idea is that we narrow down the scope of what we are trying to do.  We’re not doing everything and trying to be good at everything, we narrow down our scope and we obsess about excelling in that scope.  Not good within the scope, or even great, but excellent.

Let’s take a look at the impact:

Image from Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More

When we do more work but don’t change anything, didn’t attempt to improve, those people were coasting and they were the worst performers.  Those that did less, those that were able to focus on key priorities, but didn’t put in much effort, they were the second lowest group.  Those that couldn’t focus but tried to do everything possible?  They were the “Do More, Then Stress” group and they were the second best.

But the best group?  They focused on key priorities and then obsessed about how to do them as well as they could.  They were head and shoulders above their compatriots.

We all know multitasking is not all that it is cut out to be.  Whether it is a computer, where context switching is done in milliseconds, or in humans, where context switching can take minutes.  And this doesn’t just apply to tasks that take minutes or hours, it also applies to tasks that can take days.

Let’s take an example from the book where the researchers took a look at over 58,000 cases that judges in Milan worked on.  Those that multitasked?  They took, on average, 398 days to close a case.  Those that didn’t multitask?  They took 178 days.  Less than half the time.

Coordinating between priorities requires mental exertion … Each time you switch, your brain must abandon one task and acclimate itself to the other.

DevOps already knows this. The DevOps movement can be thought of as trying to reduce the number of times that a developer needs to change priorities.  It does this through automation and allowing for the single press of a button to do a number of different things, all without the developer having to think about it.

But let’s face it, most organizations aren’t set up to work this way.  Our job descriptions have dozens of items because, well, the more items the more important the position.  The more items the busier the person and busy means that you’re important.

The Age of Agile emphasizes this point by talking about pushing down decision making as far as you can.  By doing this the job description becomes more streamlined.  Those that are developing the application are making decisions about the application.  Those dealing with the clients are making decisions about client interactions.

All of the latest research seems to be agreeing on how organizations need to be run and how people within the organization need to operate.

So why aren’t people listening?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.