Priorities

The Blue Hook Philosophy [2/10]

This post is part of an upcoming e-book which will be released in 2015.

“Is it common for shifting priorities to cause rework or waste in your company?”

– Question #2 from the Startup Quality Survey

As we discussed in the previous chapter, shifting priorities can have a negative impact on your team’s pride. What is the solution? As a leader, it is your responsibility to create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product or service. This is W. Edwards Deming’s first key principal and it leads right into his “System of Profound Knowledge”.

W. Edwards Deming

“A business can simultaneously reduce costs through reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation, while increasing quality, customer loyalty, worker satisfaction and, ultimately, profitability.”

– W. Edwards Deming

Deming talks about the difference between automobile manufacturing plants in Japan and those in the United States. In Japan, the line would stop routinely for preventative maintenance at the discretion of employees. In the United States, stopping the line was frowned upon. The result was that machines were poorly maintained and catastrophic accidents would happen. Now the priorities for your business have shifted to an “all hands on deck” effort to “put out the fire” which could have been avoided. Sound familiar?

Of course it is important to guide your company from the top, but smaller teams within your company need to maintain constancy of purpose and avoid shifting priorities as well. While it is difficult to separate concerns in a technical setting, try to give certain teams responsibility over parts of the system, or at least a subset of issues which they can break down further. Additionally, empower your employees to make judgement calls and spot problems that need immediate attention.

Engineers who work with the codebase everyday have a more intimate understanding of priorities than a product manager or director of marketing. An elaborate new feature which has been promised to clients in 3 months is not as important as fixing an existing bug or preventing system downtime for current customers. If the entire company is focused on improving its product or service, and teams are encouraged to engage in preventative maintenance, then your company will be able to greatly reduce the amount of rework and waste due to shifting priorities.