Team Efficacy

Thanks to startup product culture, triads, squads and component models are more prevalent in the past decade. The pace is at which we ship software is truly scorching at one end and exciting at another.

I have contributed to 200+ product teams in my tenure and I have seen a few patterns that repeat itself. Some good. Some bad. Some ugly.

Good is we have high agency to ship. Bad is we have no life. Ugly is we suck at self organising and we don’t take help for the same. Over a period, we have cut costs on project managers, scrum masters and all things they bring in sanity to the teams. What remains is passion and insanity.

As a student of cognitive science, organizing, processing, streamlining information is my second nature. I painfully realised that not everyone in the team is tuned to these aspects. As a result, there is no one to own team efficiency and effectiveness. Everyone is high on their priorities. This brings a mess to the entire teams work life in the name of passion, pulling up the socks and bash on regardless attitude.

Don’t get me wrong. Passion is great. Higher the bar, greater the fun. I am just against wrong ideas of productivity.

We have limited time (30 hours a week and 10 hours buffer- yes I mean it). We use it or we lose it. In this limited time it is important to stay prioritised and pull the right levers.

It is a skill to be prioritised. Size the items, understand the intensity of work required and do it well. We don’t have to spread ourselves too thin just because we are passionate. When we work joyfully we get more things done. When we are stressed our work quality suffers. Pick only high impact and high significance items.

So here is a simple method I follow for design operations that brings in sanity and quality in my teams.

Let’s assume there are “n” designers in your team. You can’t have more than 2n high intensity items at a time. At the max you can have 3n items provided one item is low intensity. Pick the next item only when one item is completely done. Treat it like a conveyor belt. Work in progress is waste. Minimise waste in your teams.

Let’s apply this to a real case scenario. Let’s say you have 4 designers in your team. You cannot be handling more than 8 high intensity items at a time. Send one off the list to bring a new one. Everytime your priority changes, pull something from the 2 items, keep in the parking lot and continue with a new item. Piling up items causes anxiety. It will affect the self worth of the designer. Lack of prioritisation cannot affect the efficacy of the team.

As a design manager, I am gung-ho about keeping up efficacy of the team. As a result comes efficiency and effectiveness. If you don’t have a project manager in your triad, pick up design operations as a design manager and support your team. Your teams will thank you.

Just by handling 2n items at a time, you will bring in more agility, focus and sanity to your teams. Period.

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