Tag Archives: bestpractice

Reduce options by making big decisions first

Reduce options by making big decisions firstHow can you make good decisions when there are so many options? Start with the biggest decisions and eliminate other outcomes. But always keep some backup options open in case it goes wrong.

It might probably sound familiar: you’re in the supermarket to do the weekly shopping for your family and you don’t know what to buy. You browse each section and there’s a lot of stuff you could buy. But what do you really need and where do you start? Typically I would buy “the regular stuff” we need and during the week find out that we haven’t got (enough of) ingredient X to make dinner. Which leads to another trip to the store.

Making the biggest decisions first reduces possible outcomes and combinations. In this case: what are you going to eat for dinner? Today, tomorrow and the rest of the week. You don’t have to make a strict planning for each day, but you need to get it fixed for a few of them to make life easier. When you know what’s for dinner, you know which ingredients you need.

Because the biggest decision is made, you can focus and take the next decisions. Ok, spaghetti’s up for dinner tomorrow. Which version are we going to make: napolitana, carbonara or vegetarian? When you take the next decision, the number of options go down again and it gets easier to select. For carbonara spaghetti you need meat, paprika, tomatoes and onion.

Keep some alternative options open, just in case. You never know what can change between the visit to the store and preparing your spaghetti. That’s why it’s handy to keep an alternative option open that allows you to switch easily. Also buy a zucchini and eggplant, just in case a friend of the family joins as a vegetarian.

Enjoy your meal!

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Work fascinates me, I can watch it for hours.

Werk fascineert me, ik kan er uren naar kijken

Werk fascineert me, ik kan er uren naar kijken

“Work fascinates me. I can watch it for hours.” During a gemba, I came across this statement at the back of a Hoegaarden beer mat which was attached to a whiteboard.

Sometimes we are so absorbed by our work that we forget to take a step back once in a while. A step back to observe the process, to observe the work delivered, to look for improvements, to adjust the strategy, …

The disadvantage of not being able to take a step back is that it’s perfectly possible to start working very efficient, doing non-effective (read: non-value contributing) work. Like they say: doing the wrong things in a very efficient way.


The rumor is that the ability of taking a step back is one of Toyota’s criteria for acquiring people. During the job applications they leave the job applicant waiting somewhere in the production line/hall for half an hour. Afterwards they ask him what did he see during the waiting time and what could be improved.

Step back, look forward

Step back, look forward. Start, pause, stop. Evaluation. What’s in a name? It are all initiatives to taking the time (and courage) to take a step back and evaluate the current situation and progress.

The challenge is that when times get hard, it’s extra difficult to take the time for this review moment. Nobody has time for a step back moment when shit hits the fan. However, it could help that to build in review moments into your calendar and into the process.

Let’s take a look how Agile did this.

Agile and retrospectives

Agile is an iterative and incremental method used to develop software. (More about Agile in “GAP analyse: Agile projectmanagement en de PMBok aanpak voor kennisgebieden Project Integration, Scope en Time Management”)

In contrast with the familiar waterfall approach, Agile works in bursts. Short sprints of 4 to 5 weeks after which a working piece of software is delivered.

Agile has it’s step back moments build into the process in the name of retrospectives.

After each sprint, the team and customer get together to evaluate their last team effort. What went well? What could go better? It doesn’t matter which technique they use: brainstorming, root cause analysis, … The principle of taking a pause to observe the current efforts and see how the team can improve will positive effects on results, commitment and team mood.

Plan – Do – Check – Act

There’s no use for a step back moment when you’re not taking action. So design a method for assign and follow-up on actions and progress. Use the action list in your next retrospective. See if you made any progress (see also blog entry “A daily sense of measurable accomplishment”) and act upon it when it’s not working.

So, when are you planning your next step back moment?

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