September 1, 2009

for mysiteby Ioana Justus

I had a very insightful meeting with my CIO last week about quality.  One of the questions I asked him is his advice on how to prioritize among many possible tasks when they are all of similar difficulty and impact.  This is the challenge we’ve been facing with improving quality – there are many things that could/should be done, but each one has fairly localized impact, and none of them solve the bigger problem.  His response was that that’s what happens when you take a bottom-up view, and he suggested looking from the top-down instead.  He recommended looking at instilling accountability at the right levels, and all of those many smaller things would take care of themselves.  He’s right, of course, and we’re looking into ways to build that accountability.  In parallel, I’d like to start down this path in an organic fashion, too, by challenging everyone in IT to identify areas of quality that impact them (or where they impact others), and working to improve them.

“Yeah right, Ioana, I don’t have time to do that,” you say.  And that’s really the crux of the quality problem, isn’t it – time.  The biggest reason for not doing an adequate level of quality seems to always be time.  But is it really true that we don’t have time?

I’ve been playing with time lately in my personal life, because I was finding that I’ve been killing my Saturdays with house chores.  I’d let everything build up during the week (even opening mail) because I didn’t think I had time, and then I’d have to deal with it all on Saturday.  No single task takes very long, but ten minutes to water plants, fifteen to sort the mail, thirty to deal with the kitchen, and it adds up.  All told, my husband and I were each spending about 2 ½ hours each Saturday getting all the chores done.  Once finished, we’re too tired to do anything else that day.  So we ended up wasting an entire day – half a weekend! – for a lousy 2 ½ hours’ worth of chores.

Since maid and yard service are not currently in the budget, I thought I’d try something a little different: rather than letting it all pile up, how would it be if I spread it out?  What if I spent just 30 minutes every weekday?  But that still seemed like a lot – I’m too lazy and undisciplined to do 30 minutes of chores every evening, so I tried breaking it up even more.  I’ll spend 5 minutes each morning emptying or filling the dishwasher or wiping down the kitchen counters.  I deal with the mail as soon as I take it out of the box every day.  While my dinner is heating I’ll fold a load of laundry or brush the dogs.  By the end of the day, I find that I got through my list, and I didn’t even notice the time spent.  Sure, sometimes I really don’t feel like doing even the 5 or 10 minutes, but my incentive is a free Saturday, and it sure feels good when I get there.

Ultimately, quality is just one of the many chores of our collective work life.  It’s those extra little things that can make a big difference at the end of the day, but as long as we look at them as big chunks of work, we’ll always think we don’t have time.  But you do have 15 minutes, don’t you?  It’s just a quarter of an hour – 3% of your work day.  That’s all you need to start.  The first step is to brainstorm some things you can do to improve quality in ways that will result in saving yourself or others some time.  I’m sure you can come up with several good ideas in 15 minutes.  Here are some suggestions:

-        Support/Operations:

  • List one or more procedures that you should know better to avoid escalation or repeating problems
  • List one or more “band-aid fixes” that regularly take your time to apply, that have a fairly straightforward permanent fix
  • Identify procedures that are not clear or that need to be updated

-        Engineers/Architects:

  • Identify where you or your peers are “re-creating the wheel” because one or more standards or processes isn’t documented
  • Identify old standards or processes that need to be updated, or placed in a more accessible location

-        Project personnel:

  • Identify documentation templates/artifacts that don’t make sense to fill out, and explain why they do not meet your needs and how to modify them to make them better
  • Identify and escalate risks to quality on your project, such as missed requirements or skipped reviews, making sure to articulate the risk in terms of potential cost or consequences

Once you’ve come up with your list, pick an item from the list that you could fix within a month if you spent just a quarter of an hour a day on it.  Discuss this with your manager, and commit to getting it done.

There are about 1500 of us in my IT department – how many are in yours?  And if each person gave a quarter for quality every day for a month, what could be accomplished?  Will you commit to blocking off 15 minutes in your calendar every day in the month of September to make a difference?  Send me an email to let me know that you will, and tell me about your plan.

About the Author Ioana Bazavan Justus

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