Humans can’t do Multitasking

Photo by the creative exchange
Photo by the creative exchange

No, not even women. Of course, we all already got sucked up so much into a phone call that we can’t remember what happened on the road during the last 100km on the motorway. But we delegated the activity “driving a car” to our subconscious. This is not possible for activities that require our attention. We have to switch constantly and these set-up times stress us – as individuals and in teams.

A computer can only do multitasking if it has several identical parallel computing cores. Then an intelligent dispatcher controls the optimal utilization of the processors. Is there such a thing for teams?

I wanted to introduce Agile development methods in my bank because I was convinced of the respective mindset. After introducing SCRUM, my projects quickly showed better results and, above all, highly satisfied employees and customers. The development method created a whole new dynamic and welded the teams together. It became the preferred method for the implementation of projects.

Not all of our tasks could be wrapped into projects. In the company, there was still a large spectrum of activities that could hardly be divided into equally long sprints. Due to the heterogeneity of the tasks, Lean seemed to me to be too complex for this – after all, it is particularly suitable for the optimization of large workflows. Then, I came across Kanban.

So back to the old wise Japanese. Kanban stands for signal card. Access to the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo is free. To ensure that the quality of visiting the beautiful landscape is not impaired by too many visitors, the number of guests in the garden at the same time is capped. At the entrance, every visitor gets a wooden chip, which he returns at the exit. If all the wood chips are taken, the next visitor has to wait until someone comes out of the garden again.

Every day in the company, tasks are poured on the team members from all angles. It is difficult to keep track and coordinate the flow of work. As a result we get overloaded employee overload and disappointed expectations.

The organizational development had already found the logical answer some years earlier. So-called ticket systems were introduced in call centers, processing units and in technology development. So, the client pulls a number and knows when it’s his turn.

One of my teams was already very well established. They were responsible for a central group application and processed 9,000 tickets each year, all tracked in an electronic system. The team consisted of the most diverse people, from a young Serbian student to a single mother to an almost pensioner. The full spectrum to practice applied leadership. The manager had been in this position for a long time and was an extremely diligent worker. I could always rely on him; he had his team under control like a good sergeant.

So, I knew that he would dutifully implement Kanban – and he was curious about new things.

I was aware that I was facing a long process. In contrast to Scrum, Kanban is much gentler.

In the first step, the team wrote all their tasks on sticky notes and decorated the wall of the team room. In a long time, we created a haptic reference to the tasks of the knowledge workers. Everything was put on the wall and the team was overwhelmed by the number of tasks they are handling.

Then the identification of classical workflows began and the whole thing came into the flow from left to right. In retrospectives, the team identified congestions in the process and how they could be dissolved so that the work could flow as unhindered as possible.

New work was only accepted if it was certain that it could be quickly and effectively channeled through the system: Stop starting, start finishing.

The implementation process took a year and a half, but the successes were also clearly measurable here. I was most pleased that the team members had found more joy in their work again.

Even today I have to smile about a special milestone during the change: One day the manager addressed me in our Jour Fixe and said “That doesn’t work with the Kanban. If I’m not there, they’ll skip the Stand-Up – the team meeting by the wall.”

I asked him who was running the meeting. He replied, “Me of course!” in astonishment. Then I advised him to rotate the lead and simply join the team as a member. I knew very well that he worked hard and that by creating transparency alone he would motivate others to do more.

Three weeks later, he came back beaming. “You were right, all I have to do now is intervene when they get behind each other again.”

When he later moved to a bank subsidiary as Head of IT, he said that he had taken Kanban as his most important learning experience from 17 years in this position. I was deeply moved; he couldn’t have given me a bigger compliment.

What about you?

Do you or your team sometimes get lost in the flood of tasks?

Do you sometimes disappoint your clients because other topics were more important?

Do you have experience with Kanban?

Translation into English supported by DeepL and Grammarly


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