Don’t force feed I.T.

I got an interesting question the other day about speeding up the Fuzzy Front End and bringing it into focus. The question was about the size of things in the Dynamic Priority List (the queue or backlog, where ideas wait after being quickly captured, valued and sized).

The heuristic to apply here is to avoid restricting the size of ideas or opportunities in the Dynamic Priority List (DPL). The reason this matters is that attempting to restrict the size of ideas and opportunities flowing in simply pushes analysis work upstream (and typically off the page). Think of the DPL as being the all-you-can-eat buffet (a Rodízio may be a better analogy as we’ll see later).

So where and how do the big ideas get broken down? When required, the “Refine” happens downstream of the DPL, and only when there is capacity. This is where waiters wield the big knife, cutting away at the huge ideas, slicing off into plate-sized stuff that teams can work with using their tools. The teams of course still do their own smaller slicing and dicing and combining the things that are on their plate (or buffer). To perhaps overextend the analogy, perhaps the learn/discover part would be the Yelp reviews of the meal/restaurant? Or maybe how much people pay and tip? Do they rave about it to their friends? Of course, not all ideas require slicing. Sometimes the time it takes to deliver an idea or opportunity is already small enough that slicing in the “Refine” is not necessary.

In practice, some ideas also tend to get broken down before the DPL in the Reveal/Triage – usually when it becomes obvious that there’s a much smaller part that would deliver most of the value. This generally doesn’t involve much input from the scarce resources downstream, so that’s fine. Things that require a “spike” should a) only be after the DPL, b) only when there is capacity available to do this and c) the information value that results is worth more than something that delivers real organisation or customer value.

In this way we speed up the fuzzy front end, keeping the amount of WIP to a suitable level to enable continuous flow through a pull-system sending signals upstream to the DPL. The push-system alternative is nicely depicted by Monty Python when the Maître d’ pushes Mr Creosote to finish off an enormous meal with a tiny slice of chocolate mint. (Not recommended if you’re a bit queasy).

Mr Creosote explodes

John Cleese hiding

Diners showered

Here’s the scene, if you’re not familiar with it, from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.