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How to Conquer Work In Progress (WIP) Overload

WIP Overload Mainstream ConferenceWhile you and your co-workers can see widgets on an assembly line, asset registers, maintenance plans or work orders, knowledge work is mostly invisible. Your work-in-process (WIP) grows. Before you know it, you’re overloaded. You can’t think deeply about what you’re doing, let alone find enough time for continuous improvement. Productivity slows. Mistakes and defects grow. Morale and job satisfaction decline. Planning is nearly impossible. Sound familiar?

As a former engineer, Jim Benson knows this scenario all too well. But he insists it doesn’t have to be this way. He’s a big believer in the Kanban methodology, a clever way of digging out of work — and staying dug out — to achieve higher quality, better productivity, greater job satisfaction, and peace of mind.

Mainstream Conference Program Director, Simon Yeowart, recently chatted with Jim to get a preview into his upcoming session at Mainstream Conference. Watch the video below to find out how exactly what Kanban is and how it can be applied to the work we do in asset management.

 

 

Transcript

Simon: 
Good morning and welcome to this web chat! I’m Simon Yeowart and I’m the producer of our Mainstream Conference, which is happening in Perth on the 20th and 21st of March and in Melbourne on the 27th and 28th of March. I’m delighted to be joined today on the line from Seattle by one of our esteemed speakers for Mainstream, Jim Benson. Good morning, or I guess good afternoon for you, Jim!

Jim:       
Good afternoon and good morning, yes.

Simon:     
It’s great to have you with us and really looking forward to having you over in Australia in a few months’ time. Have you been to Australia much before, Jim?

Jim:             
I tend to get to Australia about twice a year, so yeah.

Simon:    
Oh wow, you’re a regular traveller! So we don’t need to sell how great the country is to visit, we can just tell you a bit about the conference and how much we’re excited to have you.

Jim:    
That will be fantastic, although you can always tease me with the quality of the restaurants, because I basically arrive and pretend to work and then immediately run out to eat. [laughs]

Simon:
Sounds like a good plan – I guess we all do that when we can. Jim, I’m interested, tell us a bit about what is Personal Kanban and how can it be applied to engineers and asset management professionals, the people who are looking to attend the Mainstream event.

Jim:     
Okay. A little bit about me in that regard is I used an engineer and a… You can’t really be one without also managing assets. So, when I was a civil engineer and then later on when I owned my software company, we had to build large things, very large things, and the problems that we ran into were just that everyone had so many things to do and we were all deadline focused, that we weren’t able to coherently manage our work. We were managing it by the deadline, which is kind of like managing life by the day you plan on expiring, and not necessarily “How do I maintain a healthy existence every day until I unfortunately arrive at that point?”

So, with Personal Kanban what we’re doing with knowledge work or with the work that people are doing is we’re saying, “Look, we have only so much capacity that we as individuals or we as teams or we as organisations can maintain. We can only do as much work as we possibly can, just like any car can go as fast as it can or what have you, and we can do more things than is safe, just like we can drive faster than is safe.”

When we’re doing too many things at once – again, regardless of what the scale is, individual and up – when we’re doing too many things, we tend to not pay attention to quality, we tend to not pay attention to the relationships that we’re developing along the way, because every task that we do or every project that we take on is a container for relationships between us and other people. We never do something without somebody else saying, “Are you done yet?” and if we start 10-15 things, then all those people are going to go, “Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” and then that means that every minute of every day we’re spending our time saying, “Not yet,” and we’re not actually doing the work.

In Personal Kanban what we do is we say, “You know what? You can only do a few things at once,” two, three, five or whatever we decide what your personal capacity or your team capacity is, and then we explicitly limit that and then you only do that number of things. And it’s a visual system so you see those things up there, and when they’re done you move them to “done” and then you know that you, as a processing machine, actually have the capability then to pull something else in. It allows you to communicate that to others, so when other people in your group come up to you and say, “Can you do this?” you can say, “Yes, I can, but right now I’m working on these three things. Put it over there in my queue and I’ll pull it over when I actually have the capacity,” and then you can start making real promises that you can really deliver to people, not just promises that you make because you’re Australian and you’re nice.

Simon:   
Right, so although you’re limiting your work and your progress, it can lead to more productivity in the long run, that’s the idea.

Jim:          
Much more, yeah, like orders of magnitude more. It’s scary how much overhead we pull in by trying to manage more work than we can handle.

Simon:
And for those who are saying, and I’m maybe one of them, “I’ve got so much to do, I’m getting thrown tasks from all these different sides of all kind.” How do I actually prioritise what’s important and what I do at a certain time?

Jim:  
That is perhaps the largest question of human existence, much more than “Why am I here?” it’s “What do I do next?” Because why you’re here in the end doesn’t matter quite as much as what you do with the time while you’re here. We end up lots of times prioritising things inappropriately, and that means that we manage by volume, so whichever person is yelling the loudest we will do the thing for them, or we get together in a room with a bunch of people and we more or less arbitrarily decide “This is number one, number two, number three, number four, number five, etc.”

Then we start to do the work in that order, but we will pull in ticket number one and start working on it, get halfway through and we’re doing something with you, and then all of a sudden you leave for the day and we can’t finish it. So I pull over number two and I get about halfway through with that, and I realise that I need something from New York and the people in New York have all gone home because they’re all sleeping now, so I have to wait until tomorrow morning to ask them right at the end of their work day or something like that. When we prioritise based on urgency, we often don’t prioritise based on whether we can actually complete the thing that we’ve started.

For me, there’s a lot of things that we could talk about why that ticket was there and whether or not you really needed to do it and all those things, sort of like the precursors to priority, “Is it properly groomed and culled so that you can actually complete the work?” but then when you start it my number one question is “What is the most important thing in that list that I can actually finish and hopefully finish quickly?” and then you ask the other questions about “Is it urgent?” and that type of thing.

Simon:  
Fantastic. So in our workshop at the Mainstream Conference we can look forward to delve into a bit of depth about how anybody can take these principles and apply them to whatever tasks in their workforce and what they’ve got on a day-to-day basis.

Jim:  
Yeah, absolutely. I did a video blog about two months ago that was about prioritisation, and there was like seven or eight different mechanisms to prioritise what work is coming up, and basically the title of it was “How do I prioritise when my work has no priority?”

Simon: 
Right – fantastic. Jim, it’s been great to chat with you this afternoon your time, and I’m really looking forward to welcoming you to Australia in the next couple of months. You’re based out of Seattle but I know you travel a lot with the Modus Institute, and we’re delighted you’ve agreed to come and join us and really looking forward to seeing you at Mainstream!

Jim:  
I am so looking forward to it!

Simon:         
Jim, thanks so much for your time this afternoon, and for everyone who’s watching who is interested, check out the Mainstream website. You’ll see Jim’s workshop and all the other sessions available, in Perth on the 20th and 21st of March and in Melbourne on the 27th and 28th of March. Jim, thank you and good afternoon!

 

You can learn more about Personal Kanban during Jim’s workshop at Mainstream Conference “The Award-Winning Kanban System: Higher Quality Work, Better Productivity and Peace of Mind

 

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