A friend of mine who broke more than his fair share of collegiate swimming records was once asked if he knew midway during his record-breaking performances whether he was on track to set a new mark. “Yes,” he quickly replied, explaining “I feel the ‘easy speed.’”
Even those of us who have never raced at that level can grasp what he meant—we’ve all had experiences where things just seem to fall into place and flow with relative ease, some as part of a team that “just clicks.” These instances stand out in our minds because, for most of us, they tend to be more far more rare than we’d prefer. We might even assign their occurrences to sheer luck, unable to discern any pattern that we might try to reproduce.
But what if there was a way to make “easy speed” more commonplace, to have teams regularly knock out double or triple the volume of task completions than has been their norm, without a single team member feeling the slightest bit harried, rushed, or overworked? And what if the pursuit of such velocity was a point of team pride, bathed in fun and challenge, and dripping in empowered team creativity?
There is a fascinating convergence of ideas, practices, and techniques that promise to bring this “holy grail” of blissful team productivity within reach—and even better, to do so in a way we can replicate. Like most all breakthrough innovations, pieces had to be mixed and matched from multiple disciplines, with failed experiments far outnumbering the successful ones, and with dogma and zealotry slowly giving way to open-mindedness and the simple quest for a better way.
As interesting as the journey has been to get us to this point of convergence, I’ll fast-forward to where we are now, and describe the key characteristics of the solution for generating dramatic jumps in sustained team performance:
1. Strong, disciplined protection of focused, single-tasked execution.
2. Granular tasks that can be executed through to completion, one at a time, without interruption, and managed as a flow.
3. Individual and team autonomy to self-regulate the pace of work and allocation of tasks, specifically applying the flow-maximizing benefits of a “pull system,” and with the ability to escalate flow impediments for management intervention, as appropriate.
4. Understanding of where in the end-to-end process the biggest bottleneck, constraint, or “weakest link” lies, and subsequent alignment of the team to try and fully exploit the capacity of that bottleneck and strengthen that weakest link.
5. The ability to visualize, manage, sustain, and continuously refine all of the above, as a team.
The astute reader will detect origins stemming from Lean/Kanban, Theory of Constraints, Agile, Scrum, and from the broad field of human psychology that addresses individual and team motivation. You might even recognize elements arising from dozens of other disciplines focused on boosting productivity, improving morale, raising quality, aligning organizational/team/individual goals, pursuing a process of ongoing improvement, developing effective leaders, and many more.
What’s not needed for this approach to work is any type of big, heavy “enterprise transformation” initiative. No need to send everyone to Lean training, to mandate Agile everywhere, or to hire an army of consultants. In most cases, some part-time coaching for a few months is all that’s needed to get things kicked into higher gear—with effective leadership, the organization can usually take things from there in the way that best suits it. Why so easy? Because it’s all about harnessing how people naturally prefer to work, and about channeling common sense into common practice.
The results are not only quick, but huge. One 700-person client organization is on the verge of tripling software-development productivity in less than three months. A colleague reports applying similar techniques to an IT organization of 4,500, with similarly dramatic results. The same colleague said he once helped an organization achieve a 50% speed improvement in just a couple weeks, after nothing more than a single 90-minute phone call (see client testimonial here, in PDF form).
While Fortezza Consulting can take some credit for “connecting the dots” in this convergence pattern earlier than most, and even for helping drive some early successes using a highly effective mix of techniques, we did not get there first. While there are many pioneering thought leaders who have helped blaze this trail, one man deserves more credit than most—Wolfram Müller of VISTEM. An early version of this converged solution set was put forth by him back in 2012, and with his focus on software development, he called it “Ultimate Scrum.” I found it so ground-breaking that I enlisted Wolfram as a co-author of our 2014 book, The CIO’s Guide to Breakthrough Project Portfolio Performance, and featured Ultimate Scrum in the chapter on how to drive up the throughput of IT project completions. At Fortezza Consulting, we have since shown how this can be applied well beyond IT, with growing validation as other thought leaders emerge from completely different fields, from all over the globe, but with very similar ideas and approaches.
The ACCLAIM Single Tasking Method
Fortezza calls its version the “ACCLAIM Single Tasking Method,” given how fundamental single-tasking is to achieving such big jumps, and also given how difficult it’s been for most organizations to achieve single-tasking as part of their day-to-day norm. Aside from this blog post, we have yet to put any content on our website, though we have been including it in our public presentations, speaking events, interviews, and training classes for the past few months. Stay tuned for more, especially as videos and podcasts from these events are edited and posted online.