In this 4-part series, we’re going to take you through a sneak-peek into the realm of achieving sustainable predictability. In the first chapter, we talked about the importance of setting up and managing explicit process policies. Today, I’d like to tell you more about the possibilities that sustainable predictability opened up for us, here at Nave.

Welcome to Chapter 2 of the Sustainable Predictability series, where we will talk about what it really looks like to adopt a stable delivery system that enables you to consistently hit your targets.

Here at Nave, we are moving to a 4-day workweek and today, I’d like to tell you more about this initiative and how we managed to get there in less than 3 months.

The Motivation behind Moving to a 4-Day Workweek

So here I am in beautiful France with my husband Hristo and my two little Tasmanian devils. It is early June and the weather is gorgeous. The lockdown is now over, and we are finally having our long-awaited vacation.

The nature of the Alps is breathtaking, but something feels out of balance…

I’m catching myself getting worked up, anxiously scrolling through my phone while my head is brimming with thoughts: should I already start crafting the presentation of that next meetup, what’s happening with our Facebook ads, did I include that paragraph I was thinking about in the next article… Even 700km away from the office, I just couldn’t get my mind in the right place!

Suddenly, it struck me. I was there, watching my family running around, laughing and making the most out of their time. But I wasn’t with them, I wasn’t present during that moment of joy and happiness.

And I don’t want that for my life. I want to be with my loved ones and genuinely enjoy my time off. I needed to set some boundaries!

Have you ever felt like, when you are sitting at the dinner table having a nice meal with your family, you aren’t actually there? As high achievers, we can easily fall down that rabbit hole, where our minds become 100% occupied with our work, 24/7. There are times that we don’t even realize that there is a whole other world out there, we’re so mentally apart from it.

We all need a healthy work-life balance to be truly ourselves, to be able to come back well-rested and ready for the new challenges with fresh perspectives.

So, I decided to turn off all the technology until the end of our vacation. And it felt fantastic!

On our way back to Belgium, I was talking to Hristo about how recharged and positive I felt. I had so many new ideas! I realized how important it is to spend time away from work, and how this actually helps you to be more productive. I want that for myself and I want that for my people too!

How can we make that happen? Well, let’s switch to a 4-day workweek!

The Importance of Setting Actionable Goals

But, how could we possibly hit that target when there is so much going on all the time? We’re so busy with a 5-day workweek, how could we possibly achieve the same or even better business outcomes in less time?

We didn’t want to work harder, that wasn’t the point. We wanted to become more efficient in the way we managed the work.

So, we had to cut out everything that slows us down and do more of what makes us productive. Our focus needed to move to reducing the waiting time in our workflow as much as possible.

We already have a pretty decent delivery system, but can we preserve that efficiency if we have less time on our hands? The cornerstone here was setting an actionable goal that drives our decisions:

In the next 3 months, we want to deliver any work item in less than 15 days and we want that to happen in 95% of the cases.

Pay attention that it is specific, meaningful, measurable and time-bound. We set a threshold and a reward. If we managed to get there, we would have proven that we can achieve more with less effort and we’d feel confident to switch to a 4-day workweek.

It shouldn’t matter how much time, when or from where each individual is working. The size, the complexity or the nature of the work items shouldn’t matter either.

The only important thing is to deliver customer value with a high degree of quality within 15 days, without working overtime.

If we manage to achieve that goal, we can take the next step and award ourselves a 3-day long weekend, every weekend!

Honestly, the team got really excited about this initiative and I was able to see how much they were boosted by the idea. They were determined to collaborate effectively to make this happen.

They realized that their individual performance was not what we were interested in. They switched the gears to help each other and deliver the work as a team.

What we measure is exclusively what we value! Driven by the common goal to sustain and even improve the predictability of our delivery workflow, the team consciously and subconsciously started to make different choices. And all of these choices resulted in the outcomes we desired.

The Data-Driven Approach Towards a 4-Day Workweek

The tool that was a tremendous help towards realizing our initiative is the Aging Chart.

It enables us to track our current tasks in progress. It uses the same visual format as our Kanban board, with each column representing a state in our workflow. The Aging Chart shows how many days a task has already spent in progress.

Data driven approach towards 4-day workweek

The colored zones on the Aging Chart are called health zones and they represent a timeline. They visualize the amount of time that our completed work items have spent in progress, as the work is moving through each process state.

To be able to preserve the predictability of our delivery system, the most important thing for us is to follow up with every item that moves to the orange zone in a certain process state, especially if it is in a queue state.

This means that we are paying special attention to any work item that is spending more time in a specific state than 70% of our completed tasks so far.

The main focus of our daily meetings became answering the following question: Is there anything that goes in the orange zone in our Aging Chart? If so, let’s talk about what we can do to make sure we enable the work to move further. If not, it’s a good time to close the meeting.

And we made so many improvements just by following this strategy.

We’ve observed that sometimes our work got blocked because it wasn’t ready to move to the next state of the workflow. To eliminate that obstacle, we introduced DoD in every step in the process, to make sure the work meets the explicit acceptance criteria before it can move further.

In another instance, it turned out that the work was just too complex to fit into our threshold. What the team decided to do is to temporarily reduce the WIP limits of the system, so that everyone could fully focus on completing the item quickly. They paired together to speed up the development, which ultimately resulted in high-quality results.

We even decided to move our daily calls to 4pm, so that we can fully focus our efforts in the morning (our most productive time) on getting the work done.

Work Worthy of Reward Should Always Be Graced with It

Eliminating the obstacles that hinder our performance has become second nature for us.

Every time we see that a work item is accumulating waiting time in the process, it becomes front and center and we brainstorm solutions to enable it to move further. We continuously introduce small changes in our management practices and observe how they affect our flow metrics. If the hypothesis helps us improve our system, we make it a standard.

And here are the results of our 3-month experiment:

Work worthy of reward should always be graced with it

Our Cycle Time Scatterplot shows that we deliver any work item in less than 8 days in 95% of the cases and in up to 15 days in 98% of the cases.

These results exceed everyone’s expectations!

We have a stable delivery system in place that self-optimizes for predictability. We meet our customer’s expectations by delivering quality results in a very short time frame. And we have happy, engaged and motivated people who feel accomplished by their work.

We’ve managed to achieve such amazing results not by working harder but by working smarter. And now, it is time to reward ourselves and enjoy our 4-day workweek!

It’s your turn! What is the next small step you will take, starting as early as tomorrow morning, to improve the predictability of your workflow?

If you are striving to enable stable delivery systems that produce consistent business outcomes, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program!

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