In 2016, an AirAsia flight departed from Sydney, Australia bound for Malaysia. At first, everything seemed normal.

However, the plane started tracking in the wrong direction and ended up in Melbourne, over 1,000 miles off course!

Six hours later than the original arrival time, the crew was able to finally land in Malaysia. What could have possibly caused such a drift?

It turned out that a navigation error lead to a tremendous deviation from the original target.

Just like pilots need the right coordinates to fly the plane in the right direction, your teams need to be working on the things that matter most to your business to move towards your strategic goals.

Let’s say that improving the quality of your deliverables is your main priority. In that case, it makes sense to focus your efforts on resolving production issues and paying off technical debt.

But what if your main objective is to attract new markets? In that case, you’ll want your team to spend more time working on new features to meet the needs of your new audience.

So, how do you know whether your efforts are on the right track?

The first and foremost thing that needs to happen is to bring visibility to the type of work your team is handling at any one time.

And there’s a simple approach you can use to do just that.

Does Your Team’s Work Reflect Your Strategic Objectives?

Even though this strategy is pretty simple, it could be challenging to implement if you don’t have the means in your hands to measure your historical performance.

How do you know whether the work your team has been doing actually aligns with your business goals?

This is where the Cycle Time Breakdown Chart comes into play. This chart will not only show you how much time your team has spent on each type of work but also it will break down that time to help you understand where your efforts are actually heading in.

In the example below, there are four work item types the team is working on: “High-Impact Issues,” “Low-Impact Issues,” “High-Impact Features,” and “Low-Impact Features.”

Your strategic objectives

As you can see in this pie chart, over a period of 1 year the team has spent 43% of their time on low-impact issues, and another 28% of their time on high-impact issues. In total, they’ve spent over 70% of their time resolving key issues during the past year, and less than 30% on new features.

If your business objective is to focus on improving the quality of your products, you’re doing pretty well.

But what if your objective is covering new target markets?

In this case, it’s not such a pretty picture: your workforce is not aligned with your business goals, just like the AirAsia pilot was flying his plane off course.

How to Get Back on Track

First, you have to tweak your system to support your goals. Let’s assume that you want to focus on adjusting your product to meet your new audience where they are at.

What this means is that you want to have your team working let’s say 80% of their time on new features and only 20% on maintenance and technical debt.

The real secret to putting a finger on the pulse of the work is to introduce swimlanes to your system design.

On your board, create swimlanes that correspond to the type of work that needs to be done.

The goal of having swimlanes is to visualize how many items of each type you have in your system at any one time.

Now, remember that our goal is to work on features 80% of the time. Let’s assume that you replenish your system every Monday and your team has the capacity to deliver about 10 items per week.

That means that next Monday, when you select the 10 items your team will be working on this week, eight of them have to be features, and two can be bugs or maintenance tasks.

Each ticket will then take its place in its own swimlane. Your team will then take it from there and do their magic.

Do you see how aligning your team’s efforts to your strategic objective has nothing to do with how the team manages the work? It’s all about what type of work goes into the pipeline which is ultimately a prioritization decision.

Of course, things won’t always be smooth sailing. But if you stick to this approach, you’ll become more closely aligned with your objectives overall. That’s the key point here.

And make sure to keep tracking your Cycle Time Breakdown chart over time to see how applying this new strategy shifts the percentage of time your team spends working on features.

If you only follow this approach, I can promise you’ll get very close to reaching your destination. If you’re ready to get started, get set up with our analytics suite – it’s free for the first 14 days so go ahead and create a dashboard with your data.

I hope you found this article helpful. Thanks for tuning in and I’m excited to see you again next Tuesday for a mindset moment, same time and place. Have an amazing, productive day!

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