A big part of Lean methodologies, taken, I think, directly from The Toyota Way, is the idea that you should gear your processes to eliminate waste whenever possible. In principle, this is a good idea, in practice? Well, I have to admit, it does fall apart a bit. Any solid process is going to produce a certain amount of unused work, or waste. And I think that’s ok. But let’s not focus on that, I don’t think Lean shouldn’t be about process at all. The gist of Lean, in my opinion, is that you should focus on working on what matters.
For projects and products.
I’ve harped on this before but it bears repeating; it’s hard to do great work when you’re not focused. When I think of of Lean principles and reducing waste, I look at it like this: anything that keeps you from being focused on doing good, valuable work can be considered “waste”. In most cases this boils down to things like excessive meetings, constant task/context switching, large course adjustments, lack of direction, zombie projects, working on the wrong things, poor process, etc. This is why research, learning, measuring and validation are so valuable. You spend a little time making sure you’re not wasting a lot of time working on the wrong things.
Having said that, there is more to it than just figuring out what to work on. People need time to focus, to think and to get knee deep into their work.
For me, personally, this means setting boundaries, saying “no” and setting aside solid time blocks for work. It means adding things to my don’t list and, sometimes regrettably, killing off projects. I can handle working on a few projects at one time, with the right setup, but I’ve tested and proven to myself many times that I can’t multitask or context switch well. I think this holds true for most people, whether they want to admit it or not.
Context switching and distraction, unfortunately, are part and parcel of modern working. Multitasking, however, is something I think many of us can do much better with. The idea that you can do several things at once and be more productive is, in a nutshell, ridiculous. I’d much rather spend a good solid week, four hours a day, heads down working on one project then try to tackle a few different things each day. I’m happier, I get more done and my work is of a higher quality.
Lean should be all about nailing down your focus so you can get to work on something meaningful. Part of that is figuring out what to work on but the meat is all about creating a work style and environment that allows for focused work.