Efficiency may be a poisoned pill waiting to be swallowed?

No process or action can become 100% efficient without negatively impacting the surrounding processes or the interconnections which make up the whole.

This idea can easily be seen the following examples

1) A production line in a manufacturing plant; at the beginning the parts are loaded onto a conveyor belt to be assembled at each point along the assembly line. If the parts are loaded onto the conveyor belt with the “highest efficiency” then the whole production line eventually bottle necks under the inundation of parts. So many parts could be loaded at the beginning of the production line that the conveyor belt can not even move the physical weight of the initial parts. Assuming that the conveyor belt can move the massive load of parts to the next station then this process will become the bottle neck.

The basic fact is that the simplest tasks can be made so efficient that they can actually begin to put loading pressure upon the more “complex” processes or actions in the work stream.

2) In teaching the most basic definition is to expose students to ideas and facts. Efficiency in teaching can be attained by “giving students the answers”. The students now have the end result in the shortest possible time therefore highly efficient. They can now regurgitate back the answer at will and all is well, in “efficiency land” but at what cost?

So how is the second example negative?

The student has taken a shortcut to get the answers but has been robbed of the journey of self-discovery and right to comprehend the concept in their own way. Why is this important? The simple and undeniable fact is that not everyone understands things the same way, we all see the world differently and our minds grasp concepts in varying ways. In teaching, the fact is that no matter how good the lesson plan, different students will pick up on different points. You will often experience the influx of questions from students trying to make the concept (lesson) part of their knowledge. This is why varying the types of examples and alternate strategies to get the concept across is very important in my opinion.

I have personally run into the darker side of “giving students the answers”. The end result may be reasonably successful at the targeted level, say high school biology but once the student enters university the cracks often appear in that the students don’t seem to comprehend the underlying concepts of the ideas or have even been taught incorrectly by a teacher who themselves had a flawed perception of the fundamentals. This type of rote learning is efficient only to a degree and at a specific level. The sad truth is that only when you appreciate a concept or idea from multiple angles (perspectives) do you begin to comprehend and understand its true nature. Efficiency in conveying ideas and facts lay the foundations for future cracks in comprehension.

Economy of scale, bigger is better, diversify and “expand or perish” are familiar concepts, so much so that we just accept them without question. We rarely question the wisdom or trade-offs these catch phrases and their core philosophies entail.

The common approach is to find something to make more efficient, these are commonly the simplest tasks in a chain. To focus on these easily measured and easily modified processes seems beneficial but like in biochemistry once you effect the level of one chemical entity, the chemical systems equilibrium(s) are affected because of their interconnection.

When focusing on efficiency, keep in mind that focusing the “laser of efficiency” upon a certain task may cause adverse effects due to the cascade effect of proximity.

Final thoughts for now.

What if the efficiency becomes detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the whole? Where are the tip points, the hysteresis, and the “endocrine system” of an organisation? Difficult answers to simple questions. The problem we face when trying to find and answer these questions is that humans work in linear time, 20/20 hind sight, we often only become aware of things after they begin to happen and then we tend to react. Not a bad evolutionary response, fight or flight; but how can we stretch past this and see into the whole.



Striving for efficiency can only be a good thing, right?

Yet this is not always the case, consider that the problem may not be the striving towards increased efficiency but the materials utilised in striving for it. No matter how hard we try, the basic truth is that any process in which people are involved in, has inherent limitations because of the human elements.

It is interesting and paradoxical that the human animal to function efficiently must have periods of rest and even diversion. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter to complete a project due the next day? The result is fatigue and usually not the best work. Side effects include emotional shifts (moods) and a distorted view of the finish result.

Well now extrapolate that to a solid 6 days with only 6 hours sleep and 3 of those hours on the very first night. Yes it can be done, no I don’t recommend it. The work becomes numbing and often and luckily the higher functioning work which involves higher mental skills such as thought are in the first days. The result is very sever fatigue and a case of diminishing returns, where version control becomes a haze and the final piece of work suffers from the lack of a clear view. The human body can be pushed but it pushes back hard, after such a task it takes months for the body to return to a state of normalcy.

OK the above extreme example is ridiculous but highlights the fact that tasks can not be optimised infinitely.


Efficiency and Transition Points

For the purposes of this post, the term ‘transition point’ means any point where something changes from one state to another. Some examples are;

  • A caterpillar changing to a butterfly
  • A company growing from a start-up to a large business
  • Developing a skill from basic to competent and then to expert would be considered at least 2 transition points

Transition PointsWe assume that it is easy to anticipate when transition points are going to happen – this is because for our whole lives up to now we are looking into the past and it is easy to see when transitions occurred. But this is a fallacy – we are using the benefit of hindsight to observe when the transition happened and in many cases we could not have estimated when the transition would occur beforehand.

Transition points can impact efficiency – I harvested some damson plums this morning and was pushing out the stones with a cherry pitter. Easy for 10-20 plums – but I was doing over 100 of them. The transition in this case was the scale of fruit that I was preparing – I found that I was picking up the cherry pitter, then putting it on the other side of the sink, then picking up a strawberry huller to get the stone out. I found that putting down the cherry pitter on the same side of the sink that I was working on instead of the opposite side sped up the process.

The same thing happens at work – imagine a small company dealing with incoming traditional mail – almost anyone can manage it on top of their normal job because only a small amount would get delivered each day. But it is easy to see a difference in a large company – often there are several people who have full-time jobs sorting and delivering the traditional mail and parcels. When did the transition point/s occur? How did they get detected and then managed?

When we notice problems, these can be symptoms of a transition point in progress – I noticed the delay caused by reaching to the other side of the sink and created a counter-measure to reduce the distance to put down and pick up the tool. But imagine that someone delivered a lot more plums to me – how would I process them in that case? The 100 or so this morning took me about 30 minutes to pit. The process I used today would be very inefficient in a plum jam factory – how many other things are we doing in ways that we always have and imagine them to be efficient? Perhaps an external factor has changed that we have not noticed yet and our ways of working have therefore reduced in efficiency.

The term ‘counter-measure’ in the Lean sense is starting to grow on me. It is a good term to use instead of ‘fix’ because any action that we take to address a problem is likely to become less useful later on and we will need to create and implement a new counter-measure at that time. It takes the pressure away from finding the perfect solution and focussing instead on one that is good enough to address the issue that we are observing, implement it and then observe the effect of the counter-measure – adjusting again when needed.

In Summary

  • Efficiency can drop if we apply the same ways of working when a transition point occurs
  • It is easy to see the transition points afterwards, but hard to anticipate them – use problems and issues as indicators of transition points
  • Using the term ‘counter-measure’ instead of ‘fix’ can be helpful to recognise that future transition points will happen and a new counter-measure will need to be developed later

Of course, this post has been using the term ‘efficiency’ which is not the same as ‘effectiveness’. We also need to be aware that the effort we are making is towards a valuable outcome. In the case of my plums, I am just about ready to put the cooked plum paste into a container – this is valuable for me, but not for people who do not enjoy the taste of plums. For such people, it might have been just as good for me to put the plums into a compost bin – but then I would not have had to remove the stones – so being more efficient with that process would have been wasted efficiency.

The Doppler Effect and Time Management.

Wikipedia states that:

The Doppler effect (or Doppler shift) is the change in frequency of a wave (or other periodic event) for an observer moving relative to its source. Named after the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler, who proposed it in 1842 in Prague.

Its effect can commonly be heard when a vehicle approaches, passes, and recedes from an observer. The frequency of the vehicle or horn etc. is perceived as higher when received during the approach compared to the emitted frequency, identical at the instant of passing by, and lower when moving away (receding).

When the source of the waves is moving toward the observer, each successive wave crest is emitted from a position closer to the observer than the previous wave. This means that each wave takes slightly less time to reach the observer than the previous wave. Hence, the time between the arrival of successive wave crests at the observer is reduced, causing an increase in the frequency. While they are travelling, the distance between successive wave fronts is reduced, so the waves “bunch together”. Conversely, if the source of waves is moving away from the observer, each wave is emitted from a position farther from the observer than the previous wave, so the arrival time between successive waves is increased, reducing the frequency. The distance between successive wave fronts is then increased, so the waves “spread out”.

So what does this have to do with time management and projects etc……..?

Well I have never met anyone who precisely manages their time. Sounds bad, but unfortunately true. Think about it, we can assign time estimates, we can have an idea of how long tasks will take but we actually can never give a precise time stamp such as that task will take 1:13:18. This is what I mean by precise.

I don’t expect anyone to be able to accomplish this completely but we can improve the situation if we become aware of the “Doppler effect” when we engage in tasks. For example how many of us have said “I can help, you! Should only take a couple of minutes.” Have you ever helped someone with their computer? Those couple of minutes become hours because once engaged in the task at hand, time seems to skew. Unexpected problems pop up, the task was actually more convoluted, complex, complicated than you expected, you expected it to be something else; or you just honestly thought it would take only a short time and seem to get involved and lose track of time when you’re working on something.

I personally tend to do the latter so much so that there is time, and Steve time when I’m working on something because you don’t stop until it’s finished.

So what of the Doppler effect? Well, when not engaged in the task and looking at it from the outside, observing the task calmly in the distance, no stress, no pressure almost serene. Our perspective of the task seems small, like a car in the distance there’s no urgency and it seems small, almost insignificant.

When the task is at hand, the actual work takes on a sense of urgency and true scale. The task takes on its own dimensions, not those predicted or estimated by us but its actual form, warts and all. The task becomes enveloping and the most important thing at this point in time because we are engaged. We lose track of time, schedules can slip and we even chase rainbows down blind alleys because we try to make the task fit into our previously conceived notion of what it was. The end seems so far and the mountain to climb can seem so high that we may tend to procrastinate, avoid and generally hide from the fact that the task was not as it seemed in the beginning.

When the task is approaching the deadline or completion, things seem to move at a quicker pace, the time left on the task or project seems to evaporate. Interestingly the tasks can become more defined and therefore accomplished with greater ease, the skills have been honed or acquired, the nature of the true task has begun to show itself and the end is in sight and happily embraced.  However, this may not be the case.

What is this all about; well we tend to colour our perception of how long things will take, we often underestimate the tasks at hand and therefore the required effort, we can also overestimate (fudge) the timelines and effort involved in a bid to give ourselves a sense of control. Often people will rise to the occasion and work overtime, through lunch and even weekends, when in the belly of the task, but should we then take these efforts and extrapolate that our fudged metrics and greyed opaque time constraints are accurate or based on reality? These problems are universal and we all do it to some degree but projects and tasks are not uniform pieces of work, they exist like plum puddings, patches of smooth consistency with areas of varying densities (raisins, mixed peel etc.), these areas are tasks which are more complex, complicated or just unknown.

So how can we deal with this?

The first thing is to be aware, most projects and tasks are not consistent in effort or degree of difficulty. The ability to examine and explore the project, sift out more difficult tasks and subtasks and prioritise them is beneficial. Striving towards the framing or putting guidelines in place to aid and clarify is also very helpful. And finally the awareness that all projects and tasks are their own “animal”.

Biologically speaking animals and plants are grouped by their similarities and teased out by their differences. Even in a population of a single species there is variation. Surely tasks and projects are no more diverse, each may share similar traits to others but they are never really the same. Even if a carbon copy project was run, the outcomes would vary because the time it was undertaken would be different, the staff, the economic climate etc. etc.… could also vary.

The environment and our position in it, effects perception, this is a simple idea but difficult to enable. The fact in any organisation is that tasks are divided up to help efficiency and productivity. This is a tried and true approach yet when you have a disjoint between groups, all hell can break loose. Imagine a typical company with management, staff and silos responsible for certain activities such as programming, sales, administration etc. you get the idea. Now a disjoint would mean by definition that these silos or groups would not share the same world view as each other, they may be similar but never the same. The focus of each group would be different by the very nature of the organisational structure. Fertile grounds for a Doppler shift, differing perspectives.

Say the management wish to grow the company, sales are motivated to sell by means of commissions (more money for them), the programmers just want to code and be left alone, the administration wants clear view and control, over all and sundry. One organism pulling in different directions. The idea of being a team player is raised on high and touted as a company value and all is well?

The Doppler effect by its very nature means that each group will see their environment differently and although the same entity, perceived differently. The real dangers come from the lack of awareness between silos, the sales reps up sell, management wish to expand and grow and the “grunt work” is done by the people engaged at the coal face, coding etc. They are the best ones to gauge the true nature of the tasks at hand and the capacity for growth. Sure, stretch targets are good, people will often rise to the occasion but if stretched too far or too quickly, errors and catastrophe are around the corner. If the “grunt workers” in the company are working long hours in overtime, through their lunch breaks and on their weekends then the sales reps (on commission) and the management team are not team players, in my opinion.

The differing perspectives (Doppler effects) are distorting the true situation and we all should be aware of these effects.


Visualising Certainty in Project Estimates

When we are scoping out a project, we are asked to provide estimates for time and cost to certain confidence levels. At the start it might be +/-100%, then +/-30% and then +/-10% (or fixed price).

What we are doing is spending money and effort in order to learn more about what we are going to deliver before we get started on actually delivering it. Using a blanket level of confidence such as +/-30% could be introducing more risk into the project because most of the things that we work on actually have subset levels of certainty. Even at the very start of a project, when we are asked for +/-100% – some of the work will have +/-10% certainty, some +/-30% and the rest will be a bit of a wild guess (+/-100%). The risk that we are introducing by treating the whole estimate as a wild guess is that we will end up spending a lot more on investigation to get to the next levels of confidence than we really need to spend.

There is another way to express our levels of confidence. Imagine a stacked bar graph that could show the amount of work at the different confidence levels. At the start, and what we would call as a +/-100% level of confidence, it might actually be a very skinny layer at high confidence (+/-10 %), a bit more at medium confidence (+/-30%) and a large amount at wild guess level (+/-100%). Depending on the type of scope falling into the three different sections, we can then make better decisions about the remaining work to estimate the project and whether there is value in starting some of the higher confidence work earlier.

Fuzzy stacked bar graph Even when we have an overall estimate to +/-30%, we will still have subsets of scope sitting at the high certainty and wild guess levels also. By expressing the estimate as an overall +/-30% we are hiding crucial information about the project which could be used to make better decisions, be indicators of untapped opportunities, or risks.

For example, if we are looking at a project estimate that looks like the bar graph on the right in the above picture, we could have a good discussion about the amount of effort required to drive out the uncertainty from the wild guess components. It might be the case that we should start the other components first because that work will inform the wild guess components or completing some of that work will make it easier to determine some aspects of the wild guess work. Without this type of visualisation, we will treat the entire scope as still only having medium certainty and might start some work prematurely or delay useful work and potentially over-invest in effort to gain more perceived certainty.

Observation, Perception ……

The set and forget, out of sight out of mind and even your greatest strength can be your weakness are all very familiar phrases to most of us. So what does this mean to most of us in our day to day lives?

The greatest thing about programming is the fact you can create something from nothing; all you need are the basics, computer, language and time. No other thing we create can be made from such a point of nothingness. The wood worker requires timber and physical tools, the metal worker metal etc. but when it comes to creating software you can create everything even the tools. This virtual world is liberating and basically unrestricted except by our own limitations. This freedom from the physical world is its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness.

We are physical beings and as such experience our environment by our senses, touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing. Because of this we relate better to things that share our way of experiencing the world. People relate better to cats and dogs (furry mammals) than they do to fish. Many fish are doomed to die because they do not experience and interact with the world in a similar manner to people.

The usual pets such as cats and dogs breathe air; can vocalise (meow or bark) to get attention and live in the atmospheric environment as we do, which means that smells can be shared by both people and pet. This last one seems strange but the fact is when the kitty litter tray is dirty or the pet has made a mess people can smell the result easily. In the case of fish, however, when the water in a fish tank becomes “stale” from their waste products or from over feeding, the water does not smell bad to us until it becomes really toxic. The person looking after a fish tank often looks only at water clarity as a means of gauging the condition of the tank, the problem with this is battery acid is also clear and yet toxic. The fact we do not live in water means that this environment is rather foreign to us and therefore we can naturally sense only some of the important parameters required for fish to live. This is why many fish die due to our inexperience as fish keepers.

So how does the fish keeper overcome the “out of sight out of mind” dilemma of fish keeping, the answer is actually rather simple, they use test kits to check pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, alkalinity and many more parameters depending on the goal of the tank. This doesn’t really sound simple does it? But the actual fact is the fish keeper uses all the above tools to gauge the state of the aquatic environment, yet his greatest ally is in fact the simplest which is regular water changes of 10 to 20 percent usually weekly. Yes, that’s right, regular maintenance is your only real ally when you are dealing with a foreign or alien environment.

So what does fish keeping have to do with programming? Well the fact the virtual world our programs live in is a completely alien or foreign environment means that we are not naturally aware of the state or conditions in this environment without using tools to test and monitor it. The regular water changes may be considered regular updates or upgrades. The set and forget environment of software is its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. Just like a fish tank we will only notice the bad (really bad) water quality when it smells foul and this is usually too late. Similarly we only tend to notice software when it breaks.

If you don’t like fish then maybe the aircraft industry is a better analogy for you. The fuselage of aircraft undergoes many stresses during normal operation and basic metallurgy tells us that if metal is bent back and forth many times, it will eventually fail. The resulting metal fatigue is usually invisible to the naked eye and to monitor it requires special equipment and expertise. The cost of which would be prohibitive if tested every flight or every week. This is where the aircraft manufacturer specifies maintenance schedules for testing and replacement of specific parts. Next time you fly think of this and think about if the plane was your software would your maintenance find the metal fatigue?

Managing Constraints

Tasks and activities are easy to manage – we see that a job needs to be done, schedule some time for it and then do it.

Queues are easy to see – waiting in line to pay for some goods when we go shopping – or waiting in line to see a popular tourist attraction. Waiting in queues like these is a good time to ponder about why the queue is there and how it could be better managed. Could the shop hire some more cashiers? Could the tourist venue allow more people through at once by setting out the attraction in a different way?

What about the queues that we cannot easily see such as those in our everyday work?

One thing that seems efficient is a regular set of decision-making meetings such as review and approval to proceed with an activity (like recruitment or a project). There could be a better way to manage these decisions – or are these regular meetings actually the most effective way to do it?

How many of us have rushed a presentation together to get it into the next cycle for a decision meeting? What might happen if the decision could be made as soon as we have brought together the information needed to make that decision? Would we have less of a sense of urgency and take longer to do simple things? Would it take less time because we know that the decision will be made as soon as we are ready for it?

The decision to proceed or not is a constraint – up until that time, we are not certain that the project or other action will go ahead. By holding a regular meeting for the decision-making, we are making efficient use of the decision-makers time – but we are introducing queues into the process. Imagine that there will be 5 project ideas presented at the next meeting – all 5 have different sets of data that they need to gather in order for the proceed or not decision to be made. This data-gathering will have different lead times and each project will actually be ready for the go/no-go decision well before the meeting – so the length of wait-time in the queue will be different for each of them. How many of us record these wait times? Those things that remain invisible cannot be managed – people will be waiting on the decision-meeting before they can do the next set of useful actions. We could have 5 teams waiting on one meeting with senior decision-makers – because that is the best way to use the time of those decision-makers.

5 Teams WaitingConstraint management is hard to do because it is very hard to notice the constraints. We get used to it taking a certain time to do things and waiting for the next decision point – because that’s how it’s done and it appears to be efficient.

There are a lot of other constraints out there waiting to be noticed – the clues are there when our colleagues roll their eyes or complain about something. We can empathise with them and move on – or we can empathise and then dig a bit deeper.

  • Is this a part of a pattern?
  • Do other people also complain about it?
  • How can we measure the things that people are complaining about?
  • If we could measure them, what would we expect the measurements to be in order to validate or invalidate those complaints?
  • If we are not already capturing the data, why?

Next time you are planning work – notice if you are planning activities, tasks or constraint management. Planning some time each week for observation sounds like a good idea – only by looking at something for a while and reflecting will we find ways to improve.

Self limiting conscious or unconscious

So what does this mean to us and what relevance does this have in our daily work place and lives in general. The hidden constraints we all have are not often apparent to us; only when we stop and contemplate our actions and move away from our usual reactive state do we find some insight or realise that we often and typically impose constraints on our behaviour, actions, work, others and even our own metal state.

Think about it, when we do something we behave and work within a particular set of rules, these rules are either given to us by our peers or “betters” or we develop our own rules. The irony is that even when we supposedly develop our own rule for what ever the task at hand is, we often only modify the pre-existing rules of others. There is nothing wrong with this but to be aware of it is rather important if you seem to be at an impasse. Consider learning a new skill like archery or programming; we as adults bring many things to the table developed eye hand co-ordination etc and experience, a young adult or even child brings less to the table from this point of view yet they bring inexperience by the bucket load. Now the paradox of this is the child will jump in and explore every facet of the task from every direction that springs to their mind, while the adult burdened by previous experiences and possibly bad ones will slowly and safely explore the task. Have you every wondered why your children are better at certain games or tasks than you? It’s because we as adults often bring hidden constraints (baggage) to the table. When I was learning archery amongst a group of others including young adults and children I had the realisation that adults impose limits on how good they can be from the very beginning. Adults tend to say things like “I’m not very good at this” or “It’s my first try” all very I’m going to suck at this but be nice attitudes. While the more childish in the group just focus solely on the task at hand and bring no preconceived ideas about how good they will be, if any thing they would say “I can do that”. Using the example of archery the other thing adults tend to do is something quite amusing to statisticians. We tend to think if I got a bullseye then the next bullseye some how becomes less likely, somehow the previous event effects the next. To some degree with archery but conversely you could say that because you got a bullseye the next one should be easier because you already got one. You’ve done it before you can do it again, attitude. The child would see this as it should be easier to repeat, while most adults will see this as pressure and stress.

So what does this mean? Adults tend to place barriers while children do not, the barriers may be beneficial even life saving but they can also be hindering or even counter productive. Regardless to be aware of these self imposed limits is a good thing and when something is not working as it should be then reflection upon the possible ways you or others have limited the process or task may be beneficial.

Observation, Awareness, Reflection and Contemplation

Reliance on Others

The agile concept of self-organising teams can be mistaken as allowing the people within a team to do whatever they want to do – because eventually they will self-organise into an effective group. If I was told to be part of a self-organising team, my first reaction might be a feeling of freedom.

I could do whatever I thought was the right thing, such as, come into work at 3am and leave around lunchtime or write all my documents in Latin (because that would be fun and precise – although I would need to seriously brush up on my high-school Latin – I can only remember ‘canis in mensa stat’).

I was trying to think of a list of things that I could do by myself and ran out of them very quickly – we rely on other people at work to get our jobs done. With the two (silly) examples above, my sense of freedom would place a burden on others – not many people would be happy to attend my 3am meetings and very few would be able to read my Latin documents.

Another misinterpretation of self-organising might be ‘without constraints’ – which sounds wonderful, and could end up with similar issues. Constraint can mean prevention or it can be a thing that helps to shape our thoughts and actions in useful ways.

Back to the concept of self-organising teams. Teams cannot work in complete isolation, even in a small company there are other people involved. Imagine running a sandwich shop. Our Customers are likely to buy sandwiches during lunchtime – so we have a constraint of peak sales likely between midday and 1:30pm. We can only afford a certain amount of counter space, staff and supplies – and each fresh sandwich takes a minimum time to prepare, wrap and conclude the sales transaction. We can think of the shop as having inputs of fresh sandwich ingredients and outputs of sandwiches to happy Customers. The way that the shop runs needs to consider the inputs and outputs and then come up with the best way to get flow happening.

Sandwich ShopNow we are very far away from the concept of freedom and without constraints – we are tied to the shop for the long hours of work to service Customers for 90 minutes a day (and a few sales before and after that if we are smart). And yet, many people think of freedom as running their own business – how can we resolve this seeming paradox?

Perhaps freedom comes from the serving of others and is enabled by our reliance on others and we need to consider this in our teamwork. An effective self-organising team cannot be a bunch of people doing random stuff and magically becoming organised. The group needs to consider the inputs to the team and the outputs expected from the team – as well as the inputs and outputs for all of the work within the team. By observing these inputs and outputs and the way the work flows, we can improve over time.

In the sandwich shop example, we can place the ingredients in consistent places and monitor them as they empty during the busy periods. We need to discuss our observations about the effectiveness of that layout and any processes for topping up the ingredients.

Only by working together to share observations and ideas for improvement will we see any changes.

There was a great lunch place near my office that changed hands a few years ago and changed from quick service into very slow service almost overnight. I persisted for a while, but it did not get any better and I always wondered why the old owners did a much better job and these ones were inefficient. Now that I am writing this post, I think that the people in the lunch place were too polite with each other and tried to share the work – there would be 3 people making my sandwich, when before there was only one – or 2 at the most if they were not busy. The new owners divided the work up so that one person would prepare the bread and another 2 prepare the other ingredients – but not like a production line and they would be working over each other and slowing each other down. I imagine that this would have been frustrating for them and perhaps they did not discuss these little frustrations and observations, so the opportunities for small improvements were missed. I stopped buying my lunch from that place and there is a completely different lunch place there now.

Perhaps it would be useful to rename the idea of self-organising teams because it causes a lot of confusion. I would like to see teams that practice continuous improvement aiming towards great flow and the creation of value. Teams that are observant of the flow of the work from start to delivery as well as within the team and considerate of the impacts to others within and outside of the team.

Considerate-Observant Teams – the freedom to create value… and recognition of our reliance on others in order to be free.