Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting the job done faster by taking your time

I had an experience that demonstrates how it's possible to get the job done faster by taking your time.

My son Nick is at college, about an hour's drive from home. When the weather started getting nice, he asked me to drop off his bicycle which had been stored at home for the winter. I had a busy weekend, but I told him that I would drop it off Saturday. I had also promised to take my daughter, Emily, out to dinner that evening, but I told Nick I would drop off his bike around 5:00 pm figuring that I would be able to get back home a little after 6:00 to take Emily out to dinner. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, and I was working in the yard. I wanted to get a little more done, so I didn't start packing the bike in the car until almost 4:00 pm. It took me longer than I expected to get ready to go. I took the front tire off the bike to fit it in the car, because I wanted to save gas by driving VJ's Honda, rather than my Expedition.

When I went to load the bike in the car, I noticed the tires were flat. Not wanting Nick to have to deal with flat tires, I got out the pump and filled them with air. Then I remembered Nick had his own pump that went with the bike, but it was not to be found in the garage. I called Nick to ask where to look for it. It turned out he had a whole bag of gear that he wanted along with the bike. After a few trips between his room, the garage and the basement, I located all of his bike gear, but was more than half an hour behnd schedule when I loaded the bike, pump, helmet, riding gloves, etc. into the Honda. Off I drove, pushing the speed limit, trying to make up time, but knowing that I was going to late for my dinner with Emily. Fortunately I was able to reach Emily by phone from the car, to warn her I was running late.

I phoned Nick as I pulled into the parking lot at his dorm, "you've got to come down and meet me quickly so you can take the bike and I can be on my way for dinner with Emily." Nick joined me in the parking lot and after a quick greeting I opened the back of the car. I was incredulous as it was immediately obvious, in my rush to depart, I had left the front wheel of the bike at home. After pumping up the tire, I carried it around while looking for his gear, at some point I put the wheel down in the garage and completely forgot about it in my rush to locate his other stuff and get going.

This was an embarrassing moment for a father looking foolish in the eyes of his son, but I had to admit there was no one to blame but myself. I told Nick to leave the bike in the car. I returned home and took Emily out for a very nice Mexican dinner, then after putting the missing wheel in the car I made the return trip to Nick's school. Spending two extra hours behind the wheel gave me time to think about the benefits of taking an extra moment to check that I had all the mission critical components before departing. I arrived home, after my second trip, well after 10:00 pm, tired, but reflective.

Here are my lessons learned from this little mis-adventure.
1. Don't cram overlapping events into the schedule with no allowance for unexpected delays.
2. When you're committed to a tight schedule, don't try to squeeze in another unplanned activity.
3. The time allowed to complete a mission should include preparation as well as execution.
4. Preparation time frequently takes longer than originally estimated.
5. Don't get so wrapped up in the details that a critical success factor for the job is forgotten.
6. When the schedule starts to go south, open communication is the best policy.
7. If you don't take the time to do it right, you may have to take the time to do it over.

For more on the subject of avoiding rushing, I recommend Michael Mah's 2004 column written for the Cutter Consortium I WOULDN'T BE SO LATE IF I WEREN'T IN SUCH A HURRY... and his more recent writing on the same subject in his Optimal Friction Blog part 1 and part 2. Michael wrote:

there’s a rule in cosmos that says “There are times that 'fast' can actually be slow. If you stop to think about it, you can discover a hidden secret: slowing down just a little bit can actually allow you to go fast - without breaking your neck, or putting you on the sidelines from tearing up your shoulder.”
Michael also gave an excellent presentation to the Boston Software Process Improvement Network in the Spring of 2006 on the subject of Excess Friction: How Fast Deadlines Can Slow You Down & Ruin Your Life

So plan time wisely, keep deadlines in perspective, and go fast by taking your time.

I'm here to serve,

No comments: