Awareness: Why Limit WIP VIII

Jim BensonExpert, Primers2 Comments

Whether you call it Buddhism or another religion, self-discipline,
that’s important. Self-discipline with awareness of consequences. ~ Dalai Lama

below the water lineSelf-discipline with the awareness of consequences.

When we become self-aware, we shed learned helplessness. The inability to act is replaced by the polar opposite – a desire to act.

We have seen the repeated with teams that previously had given up. A corporate culture of failure acceptance is created and is so pervasive that people say, “continuous improvement is impossible in my culture.”

What we’ve seen, however, is quite different. People that have been in a low-trust, punitive environment where action is shunned do develop learned helpless and they do shut down, BUT … they create pent-up demand for change. They may have learned that they can’t help now, but they’re STILL THERE.

So Eldred is still there, even though he was beaten down by years of five projects. Eldred is still there.

For years, Eldred has had to keep only the self-discipline of not going insane being pulled in so many directions. The structure of the company limited his ability to have the self-discipline of good product development and completion. Eldred never had to be aware of consequences. Other than internal political ones, he was sheltered.

Now, Eldred is a little scared. He recognizes that now Team B is on the hook for completing a product. A real product. To be really released to real buyers. And, not only that, he recognizes that Markus Blume isn’t going to tell him, or his project manager, what to do.

Eldred is also aware that no one got laid off. There was so much work not being done that the staffing still seems insufficient even for just these two projects. How is that possible?

Eldred is becoming aware.

Eldred sees that he could suggest working groups to get out features faster. It might work. He’s always wanted to try it, but never could because even he couldn’t commit to it. It’s an experiment, but … it just might work.

Don’t Be the Costa Concord

When teams become aware, they tend to want to make decisions.

Risk-averse people (management and workers alike) tend to fear this shift because it means that decisions are made by people not in authority. The issue here is that we’ve had this pendulum so well stuck at the other end of the spectrum that no one can make decisions at all.  Small, daily course corrections for projects and the company should not require edicts from the highest of authorities.

The rule of thumb that we’ve used is something called the water line.

If you are about to make a decision, ask yourself, is this fails does it poke a hole in our corporate ship above or below the water line?

If it’s above – we just say, “ooops,” we patch it and we move on.

If it’s below – we should have a conversation or set of conversations with those in command of the ship so they can either say, “Um, let’s not do that” or “Okay, let’s do it and we’ll prepare if something goes wrong.”

And yes, that’s vague.

In general, there are going to be three water-line zones.

Obviously safe, obviously dangerous, and that annoying transition band in-between.

As the work force is transitioning to becoming more fully aware of their actions and their potential consequences, you might have a transgression or two. However, we’ve never seen a ship sunk because of awareness.

What is more likely is that ships no awareness end up like the Exxon Valdez.

Eldred’s Unexpected Bonus

Limiting WIP for Eldred and Team B has led to a keener understanding of their product. They have been able to focus, as they are each only working on a very few tasks at a time. Extremely limited context switching has raised the productivity of the group. Increased project coherence has made them much more effective (they know what they are building and why).

Greater awareness is creating an efficient operation. They can see inefficiencies, they have more time to talk to customers, and they have a shared understanding for the product itself.


This is post 8 in a 10 part series on Why Limit Your WIP.  Read post 9 Communication: Why Limit Your WIP IX in the Why Limit Your WIP series.  Also, see the index for a list of all of them.

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Jim BensonAwareness: Why Limit WIP VIII

2 Comments on “Awareness: Why Limit WIP VIII”

  1. Pingback: Why Limit Your WIP: A PK Info Series | Personal Kanban

  2. Pingback: Focus: Why Limit Your WIP VII | Personal Kanban

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