Coaching Leadership

Fix the Small Things

In any organisation, there’s always a lot of really big things going on. The bigger the org, the larger they are likely to be. They are also going to span over ever longer periods of time, as more people need to be consulted, included in the loop or given the chance for a final review.

Sometimes, we get so fixed on the big things and how difficult they will be to fix, we let the small things go, even though they are causing us pain right now.

I’ve talked before about how we can fix small problems to build traction on solving the big stuff, or get some big improvements from a small fix, but sometimes it’s worth just fixing a small problem that is causing you a minor amount of pain, just to clear that distraction out of the way.

If you get a stone in your shoe, you can stop right away to get it out and stop the irritation. Sometimes you are rushing because you are late, so you don’t stop to make this quick fix. You suffer the pain all the way to your destination, leaving you with some longer lasting damage and maybe even ending up getting there later than if you’d just stopped to make the quick fix.

The same logic holds true in the workplace. Those big things are going to take time, and you should put your consistent effort in to build up the flywheel effect.

Sometimes, you’ve just got five minutes spare. Use that to fix a small pain point. It might just have an outsized effect, and it’ll certainly make you and your team feel better.

Coaching Leadership

Give it Some Slack

In any complex system, small changes can have big impacts. That’s especially true if the system is under stress, or running at almost full capacity.

There’s lots of research on this, but the basic advice is to target no more than 80% utilisation, if you go for more then your wait time gets longer much faster than expected, you can’t react to changes or anything that’s unexpected.

Building software is a classic complex problem with changes and unexpected problems. Sometimes you’ll discover a team that is running slowly, often missing commitments and not delivering the value that they are focusing on. Often they are the most optimistic team you know, sure that they will turn it around, or that next quarter will deliver double.

If you dive into it, then it’s often a problem of capacity and utilisation. For whatever reason, the team thinks and plans as if they can always work at 100%, that there will be no changes or surprises and that every problem will be solved externally to them.

Rather than trying to fix these symptoms, strip it back to that utilisation belief.

Be ruthless, and cut back heavily on what the team is trying to achieve. Cut it in half, free up time for the team to get back on an even track.

Go back to some key agile practices. Prioritise the most valuable things first. Make the work as small as possible. Ship value as soon as you can. Cut back on work in progress, and start saying no to increasing this value.

When you’ve done this, you’ll find the team turns around. They are able to deliver faster as they aren’t overwhelmed, and the utilisation becomes more healthy.

When the unexpected hits, they are able to absorb it and keep going. They become predictable, and the time to realise value goes down.

So keep some slack in your schedule, and you’ll actually go faster and do more!