Let It Flow: Using Flow Metrics to Combat Cognitive Overload
Do conflicting priorities and interruptions disrupt your week? Is your calendar crammed with back-to-back meetings? If you are already overloaded and continue to take on more work, it’s likely you’re stressed. Stress impacts cognitive functioning - making it onerous to focus on and complete important work. While cognitive overload is difficult to measure, the impact is huge.
How can the impacts of stress be measured--and communicated? In this on-demand webinar, Tasktop Principal Flow Advisor, Dominica DeGrandis, presents actionable takeaways to address cognitive overload including:
- How to enable discussion for improvements using Flow Distribution and Flow Load
- How to allocate capacity for debt work by initiating “Flow Protection Time”
- How to put conditions in place for data-driven experimentation
More often than not, when I work with orgs to MWV, to Improve Flow of work thru VS, ppl tell me they are overloaded. That the amt of requests coming their way is massive and the only way to meet that demand is by working long long days & nights - daily. Ppl are drowning in front of their screens & All day back-to-back mtgs don’t help the situation. TRANS: If you are overloaded, this session is for you. ___________
Tasktop is a VSM company. As Principal Flow Advisor, My role is to help customers make their work visible to optimize the flow of work through their value streams. ______________ Original abstract: Do conflicting priorities and interruptions disrupt your week? Is your calendar crammed with back-to-back meetings? If you are already overloaded and continue to take on more work, it’s likely you’re stressed. Stress impacts cognitive functioning - making it onerous to focus on and complete important work. While cognitive overload is difficult to measure, the impact is huge. How can the impacts of stress be measured--and communicated? In this webinar, Tasktop Principal Flow Advisor, Dominica DeGrandis, will present actionable takeaways to address cognitive overload including: How to enable discussion for improvements using Flow Distribution and Flow Load How to allocate capacity for debt work by initiating “Flow Protection Time” How to put conditions in place for data-driven experimentation
B/c look at how to get our heads above water, and create some headspace. One of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, over committed and overextended. Ask ppl how they are and the stock answer is, superbusy, crazy busy, insanely busy, Nobody is just fine anymore. Point of this webinar is address: How to “”, ””, “” TRANS: let’s start by defining define Cognitive LOAD _________________________________
Abstract on registration page Do conflicting priorities and interruptions disrupt your week? Is your calendar crammed with back-to-back meetings? If you are already overloaded and continue to take on more work, it’s likely you’re stressed. Stress impacts cognitive functioning - making it onerous to focus on and complete important work. While cognitive overload is difficult to measure, the impact is huge. How can the impacts of stress be measured--and communicated? In this webinar, Tasktop Principal Flow Advisor, Dominica DeGrandis, will present actionable takeaways to address cognitive overload including: How to enable discussion for improvements using Flow Distribution and Flow Load How to allocate capacity for debt work by initiating “Flow Protection Time” How to put conditions in place for data-driven experimentation
Communicate Responsibly – Define terms thoughtfully Make Work Visible - Provoke necessary conversations Data brings Credibility – Use metrics to help others see the problems Identify causes – Acknowledge there is likely no single root cause Allocate time for Improvements – During regular business hours Find the “Coalition of the Willing” – Partner on experiments Psychological Safety – The magic cultural necessity for change
Someone is going to influence your leadership – it might as well be you. Data brings Credibility
cognitive load is the amount of working memory being used. When learning something new, info must be held in your working memory until it has been processed sufficiently to pass into our long-term memory. Our working memory's capacity is limited. When too much information is presented at once, working memory becomes overwhelmed and we lose a lot that information – we forget stuff. If you think abt how easy it is to forget someone’s name just introduced to 5 min ago, it’s not unrealistic that we forget where to find docs on google drive or the wiki, let alone remember passwords or processes. How much can fit in your head at one time? TRANS: How much work is too much? Depends on our stress levels. b/c “” When we take on too much WIP….
We can only pay attention to a small number of things at once, and paying attention is usually necessary to create new memories. Because we have only so many waking hours (and a good night’s sleep is necessary to create lasting memories), this limits how many new memories we can form. https://hbr.org/2009/10/dont-overwork-your-brain The long hours you work each week may be good for your company’s bottom line, but not so good for your brain. Overwork may hasten the aging-related decline in memory and thinking skills, according to a long-term study of British civil servants. Back in 1985, researchers started the Whitehall II study to investigate the influence of work, social class, psychosocial factors, and life style on the development of chronic diseases among thousands of men and women working in 20 London-based civil services offices. Between 1997 and 1999, and again between 2002 and 2004, 2,214 of the volunteers completed tests designed to measure cognitive function. The tests evaluated verbal memory and skills, fluid intelligence (associated with short-term memory, abstract thinking, creativity, and problem solving), and crystallized intelligence (learning accumulated over the life span in education, work, and cultural experiences). Fluid intelligence is often affected by aging, disease, or injury, while crystallized intelligence tends to increase through the 60s and 70s, and may not begin to decline until the 80s.
Compared with the participants who reported working 40 or fewer hours a week, those who worked more than 55 hours a week had lower scores on the vocabulary tests at the start and the follow-up assessments. They also showed a larger decline in fluid intelligence from the first set of tests to the second. These connections persisted even after the investigators accounted for education, occupation, disease, stress, sleep, and other factors that might influence cognitive decline. The results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study provides a cautionary note about overwork, not proof positive that it’s bad for the brain. There was wide variation in test scores in each group — some in the long working hours group did terrifically well on the tests, while some in the 40 hours or fewer group did poorly. And the results show an association between overwork and cognitive function, not cause and effect. It’s possible that the results reflect fewer outside interests among people who work long hours. That would translate into lower scores on the tests of cognitive function used in the study. The researchers offer another possible explanation, that people with poorer thinking skills take longer to do their work, and so need to work longer. Let’s assume that there is something about overwork that can cause later problems for the brain. The effect is small, and probably preventable. Working too much can take a toll on the body and brain in two main ways — by boosting stress and by getting in the way of exercise, healthy eating, and other good habits. If you find working long hours rewarding and generally invigorating, and it isn’t getting in the way of your relationships, then it is probably good for your brain. If work is grinding you down, interfering with sleep, and forcing you to push aside fun, paying attention now to your mental, physical, and emotional health may help keep your mind sharp as you get older. As companies try to survive the economic downturn, dwindling workforces make it difficult to spread the work, delegate, or take a vacation. Shrinking your work week may not be an option. Four ways to keep your brain sharp are: Exercise. It’s as good for the mind as it is for the body. Ease your stress response. Sitting quietly for 10 minutes a day, or using the relaxation response, can help offset stress, which can take a toll on the brain. It’s also a good way to exert more control over your work life. Connect with family and friends. Interpersonal relationships can help preserve mental and physical health. Do something different. Not quit your job, though that may be an alluring change. Go canoeing. Take piano lessons. Tutor a student. Play chess at lunch. The break you take may recharge you, and just might be good for your work as well. How do you feel about working long hours? Does it invigorate you or grind you down? What do you do to stay sharp? Patrick J. Skerrett is editor of the Harvard Heart Letter.
__________________________________ Note - John Sweller argued in 1980s that instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load in learners. Working memory has a limited capacity, instructional methods should avoid overloading it with additional activities that don't directly contribute to learning. Auditory items in working memory do not compete with visual items in the same way that two visual items, for example a picture and some text, compete with one another. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/cognitive-load-theory.htm
We overload ourselves and we overload teams. Sometimes we do this to ourselves. We pull in more work than we have capacity to do – It’s us who are unable to say No. We’d rather work 70 hrs/week than say No – so strong is our desire to provide value to others. Sometimes, work is pushed on teams – ppl are told we can’t say no. Keynote talk on culture by Director in AirForce - one unit’s culture was that saying No wasn’t allowed. Instead of them just saying, “Our current maint process doesn’t meet the demand”, they spent three months working w/ Director of process improvement to come up with an alternative way to communicate the problem: result: “This unit appreciates the opportunity to approve upon it’s already robust capabilities for maintenance.” TRANS: How much stress interferes w/ teams ability to deliver value? If it takes 3 months to wordsmith a WIP problem, what else could they have accomplished during that time if they weren't overloaded due to a push system vs. pull system. DEFINE ____________________________ b/c of a push system for maintenance requests. (not prod issues, not incidents, not security breaches, but sustainment work). Q: How does inability to meet demand impact an organizations capability to deliver value?
Not just the number of things you’re juggling, but the complexity of them, or the different type of work or product. Especially teams that support different product value streams – ex: 1 – 2 designers responsible for creating wireframes for 5-6 lines of business, or an Ops team responsible for data, security, provisioning test environments, and creating deployment pipelines.
increases the load on teams. Overloaded ppl get interrupted & have to context switch from conflicting priorities – causes and frustration/stress b/c requires the brain to shift away from other work.
Push system – when new teams start new work, new requests before existing WIP finishes. Pull system (like Kanban) teams pull work in based on their capacity. Finish requests before pulling in new requests. Otherwise, new work continues to grow. Demand outweighs capacity. Overloaded teams take on more WIP, causes conflicting priorities and context switching – contributes to unmet biz needs, which then spawns new initiatives and more cognitive overload - the cycle of doom - keeps perpetuates itself. Leads to unmet biz needs, frustration, stress, burnout – impacts health. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear someone talking abt lower back pain, headaches, sleep deprivation. TRANS: Quality doesn’t happen on 4 hours of sleep - unless you’re a short sleeper , only 1-2% of the population. POLL
TRANS: Let’s talk abt how to improve the situation – how to get your head above water.
3 things to do abt Cognitive overload – 1. How to get started on what to improve, how to improve, how to quantify improvements using flow metrics. 2. How to protect capacity/time for investments in future capabilities TRANS: How to create the conditions where teams can iterate and experiment and continue working towards delivering value _____________________________ Not just the number of things you’re juggling, but the complexity of them
I’m a big fan of using visual’s to facilitate convo’s. TRANS: I find that pictures/illustrations greatly enhance discussion’s.
Giving other ppl something to look at while you present an idea – (or in this case metrics) -- creates a visual language. The “picture” here of increasing shades of color combined w/ dates on the bttm of this chart are relatively easily received information. Something is going up over the last 2 months. What do the colors mean? What’s Flow Load? Is 121 good or bad? I don’t know. TRANS: If we add a legend and a brief explanation, an important msg is communicated.
With a legend at the top, we see that green = features,,,, orange/red are defects, ……We’re talking abt diff types of work in software delivery – diff kinds of value. We define Flow load: WIP work started, but not finished. Point out Oct had 40 things, Nov 15 had abt 130 things, Dec 13 had abt almost 200 work items in progress. "" "" TRANS: This visual succinctly helps others see how much load is on the team, that Load it’s growing, that the team isn’t able to meet the demand. This is making work visible to enable conversations on what to do abt it.
When it comes to combatting Cognitive overLoad – consider how much can fit in our head and the team’s collective heads? Does it make sense for ppl to have 10 things on their plate at one time? Well – depends on size. Well – when it comes to WIP, does size really matter? Your mind can only concentrate on (here’s where there’s much debate - one thing at a time? – maybe three things? Whether it’s small or large, the complexity of the domain needs to be considered. If your refacturing your monolith, hard to focus on learning kubrenetes at same time. both of those are complicated. TRANS: It doesn’t matter how big or small something is when it's complex - b/c you can only truly focus on one thing at a time. When it’s done, you move on to the next thing. _________________________
Getting back to FL, If we filter on work item type and look at feature type work (revenue or value generating work – business requests) 24 – 32% wait time increase. Explain darker shaded area vs. lighter shaded area This begs the Q - what are we waiting on? Design? feedback/validation? environment? funding? TRANS: Waiting on CAB approval
Now - If we filter on work item type and look at debt type work (revenue or value protection work – tech debt, or improving process, training. Debt work 43 – 61% wait time increase. Debt work – Improvement related to process, ppl or tools. An investment in future delivery capability. increasing velocity or improving speed in the future is considered debt. It may sound like it's a bad thing, but not so. Debt Is an investment to make things better. Anything you do to improve your processes from that perspective can be tracked and made visible. TRANS: WORK IS IN A WAIT STATE, longer than in a WORK state. Investing in reducing cognitive overload on teams is Debt. Experiments are debt work. _________________________ If a platform team providing an infrastructure service increases capability to allow things to go faster, which is also helping my own processes, from a customer perspective, that’s a feature. B/c it’s something (from a customer perspective), that enables them to go faster directly upon receiving that and provision environments or do something self service that they can't today. So I would tend to see that each those green. If our platform team has a better way of working ourselves, (like automate test or improve own automation capability) that will allow everything that we deliver from then on to go faster.
Now, Flow Load impacts TP & speed. When FL increases, when arrival rate of work is greater than departure rate of work, imbalance between demand/capacity. That’s why you see FV & FT directly impacted. As we juggle more things at same time, they take longer. This is reflected in FV and speed metrics - FT. And when those are unbalanced, indicator the need to invest in some improvement (Debt work) How much of your WIP Flow load is debt work/imporvement work? That's the Q that FD answers. TRANS: Debt work compared to the other flow items is made visible with Flow distribution
WHAT: Visual of Flow velocity (TP) compared to the Flow distribution of completed work over same period of time. WHY: When look at these today like this – can see the nature of team’s demand/priorities. This prompts Qs: Do you typically have that many defects? Is the desire to deliver more features? But quality issues? Oct 18 release – security incident? Hipaa compliance, audits TRANS: there’s Tradeoffs - If you continue to do more defect work, you can’t expect it won’t take away from doing feature work. Biz and IT leadership need to understand - what are the tradeoffs?
This view is filtered on just debt to see the actual % of debt work, so I don’t have to do math in my head. AVG debt work is 20%. Was this the intended strategy? Is this debt work going to help us reduce defects? If the intent is to invest in improvements, then was 20% sufficient? Do we need more? Maybe we can scale back a little now. This visible allows for these convo’s TRANS: Otherwise – what would you see? see Features & Defects
If everything is just categorized as feature or defect, then get this picture? What we see here with 56% features – so 44% defects. No debt work done. Is this by design? Intentional? This Qtr, holding off on debt - the strategy is to get some big features out. This is a reminder to check if we're limiting org to be a feature factory. TRANS: Ultimately, Need to change the oil in your vehicle every so often. Let’s go back to looking at Flow load for a min.
Here’s an illustration to show how you can use WIP limits to allocate capacity for diff work types. "" "" Robbing Peter to pay Paul. That's why features may appear to have a faster FT - but it's at expense of risk and debt work being robbed. TRANS: As Carmen DeArdo says, “You have a process. Are you in control of it or is it in control of you?”
Wrapping up Flow Load & FD - key metrics to enable tough convo's. To inspire Responsible Communication – Calm, respectful, accurate, truthful using visuals to spt & improve the language to enhance discussions. TRANS: CEO Netscape quote – Jim Barksdale If we got data.. Silence got me nowhere. Ranting got me nowhere. Metrics bring credibility.
What prevents you from getting your work done? This is an important Q I ask all the time – As Principal Flow Advisor, Learn what prevents teams from getting their work done is a good place to start studying bottlenecks in VS. I talk with enterprise teams daily - “We get interrupted all the time”, too may mtgs, conflicting priorities..." Clearly need to find ways to protect our time from time theft. TRANS: Look at Flow Protection time, interruption busters and some thoughts on organizing to combat cognitive overload..
A calendar is designed to hold only one event at a time. Calendars have only so much room. Yet calendars get double, triple booked. Allowing your calendar to be triple booked is like overloading your electrical circuit - eventually, you might blow a fuse.
When you consistently overload yourself and your team, your body starts to send signals. You get sick. Or your shoulder bothers you. Auto-immune symptoms say hello. TRANS: A crowded calendar is a pretty effective way to ensure an inefficient and stressful workday for knowledge work and creative people.
Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death By Mtg” Four types of mtgs The Daily check in The weekly tactical The monthly strategic The quarterly off-site review
"" "" w/ Flow days - What's a Flow Day/ A no meeting day for ppl to focus w/o interruptions, w/o meetings, w/o context switching. To get in the zone – to optimize for flow. What Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the psychology of optimal experience. In teh zone - able to create/complete brilliant work. Collaborate across departments if necessary. Flow Thursday day in the past. This does take Sr leadership sposorship to do - which can happen by making case - by showing how reducing WIP improves flow of biz value. The just socialize it TRANS: Not going to get arguments from the teams.
Interruption Busters - Incorporate a regular cadence of interrupt-free time to focus on the most important work. The use of interruption busters creates a consistent format for managing your time. Pomodoro's, office hours particularly useful for 1:1's, or mentoring ppl you want to invest in. TRANS: Invite ppl to think abt socializing their DND pomodoro time/focus time. Heads down focused time. time zones considerations. Walk Dog
The need for software that fits in our heads. As a team, consider team cognitive load and lighten it.
TRANS: It’s a systemic approach that considers the ppl, the tech, the social structures & roles to enable companies to thrive.
To survive all the disruption in this age of software. Mik Kersten’s lays out in his book, P2P, pub 2018 Projects come & go. w/ Projects, ppl brought to the work. Ppl treated like interchangeable resources. At the end of the project, “” “” Handoff isn’t always smooth, details can get lost. TRANS: W/ products, you bring the work to the ppl who have the expert domain expertise needed to build, improve, & maintain the product.
W/ products, you bring the work to the ppl who have the expertise needed to build, improve, & maintain the product. Less dependencies, fewer conflicting priorities, less context switching – fewer of the things that contribute to cognitive overload. The mtgs that product team ppl attend have to do with their domain expertise. TRANS: Cognitive load increases the more projects, the more domains being worked on. Cognitive load is not just the number of things being juggling, but the complexity of them. When manage work by product, can reduce cognitive overload.
Now - healthy cultural habits to enable improvements. TRANS: How to create the conditions where a team can iterate and experiment and continue working towards delivering value
Let teams design... It's their work - they know what's going to help - let them own it. Start small – bld partnerships - find the "coalition of the willing" … Partner with other teams in areas where there are mutual benefits of running an experiment to go faster. Ask your internal customers what they would like to see improve. Maybe they’d be willing to sponsor your experiment! That will help create stories that can build the case to make larger changes that will amplify the benefits across the organization. Incremental funding of experiments. Create conditions of focus - Address interdependencies between teams - reduce external constraints that occur wrt diff priorities – team A pri not team B pri Bring forward the measurement of business. What does doing your goal going faster or more effectively do for the business? This will help you get biz buy-in. Use lang of biz. TRANS: Ensure the teams themselves have visibility into the value that they're delivering they can actually test the outcomes of their hypotheses with their experiments.
I‘m a big fan of using one page format for a lot of things – view of product roadmaps, team kanban’s and especially experiments – I think for the same reason that Taiichi Ohno rejected long documentation. Toyota people were bringing him these really long documents and he just wanted to read the jist of it. When you have to squeeze a bunch of info onto 1-page, it requires a lot of thought to get just the essential, relevant info written in a clear concise, to the point manner. There’s just something refreshing about getting to the point quickly – being able to read it in 5 min. This is an example of a one pager for experimentation. Problem, goal, current state? Why does the problem exist? What steps to take, what measures to capture and DOD. It’s common for ppl to fall into a state of analysis paralysis, what if I'm not 100% certain of this outcome? TRANS: John Cutler quote: “Remember that 100% certainty is not the goal and it's rarely achievable - what is the smallest experiment you could run that might reduce uncertainty.” Comes back to starting small when it comes to experimentation.
Every conference talk touch on the need for Psychological Safety. Experiments and con’t improvement require some level of Psychological Safety: b/c experiments by their very nature are prone to failure – the idea is that failure will lead to further curiosity – to inquiry – to point you in the right direction. To influence change thru experimentation, a culture of curiosity is needed. What kind of culture does your org have? Dr. Ron Westrum typology of org culture – can use it as a way to measure cultural readiness for experimentation. Do messengers get shot, neglected, or trained? TRANS: Does failure lead to scapegoating, justice, or inquiry? Experiments will differ greatly, depending if pathological, bureaucratic or generative culture. POLL
TRANS: Let’s talk abt how to improve the situation – how to get your head above water.
Aristotle Report – Goal was to answer Q: What makes a team effective at Google? Two-year study on team performance, revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. Psychological safety - humans feel safe to ask stupid Q’s, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge others ideas w/o fear of being ridiculed, or yelled at, punished in some way. TRANS: Psychological safety allows ppl to speak their mind, be creative, and stick your neck out without fear — the types of behavior that lead to innovation & market breakthroughs. As Demings says, "" "": Tell me how you’re going to measure me and I’ll tall you have I’ll behave. If you measure us in an illogical manner, don’t expect pplto behave illogically.
Flow Safety - measure of trust. TRANS: Includes Q's like these to survey your org. tack it on to your team happiness survey's. ....
Reducing cognitive load is a Win! Win! Win for biz (b/c more teams can be more effective, more efficient at delivering biz value TRANS: AND – ppl can healthier – when there’s space to reflect, to be in nature, to meditate. Regular meditation increases blood flow to the brain and reinforces memory capacity, to combat cognitive overload.
Increase biz value and your health. Protect Flow Time - ferously - if you don't say no whe you need to, your body will say it for you in the form of stress,burnout. disease. Address Psychological Safety Find the “Coalition of the Willing” to partner with and use Flow metrics to influence change - someone is going to influence your leadership. Let it be you! TRANS: People are influenced to change by someone - let it be you
Unplanned Work is one of the 5 thieves of time that I write about in my book, MWV. Time Thief Unplanned Work is in yellow on left.
Let It Flow: Using Flow Metrics to Combat Cognitive Overload