Waste in Information Processing

The organization of distributed teams poses greater challenges to the dissemination of information. The longer in transmission route, the increase in the storage location of information, and the increase in the proportion of written communication have more or less affected the efficiency of information reception.

Waste From Organizational Structure

If the project manager is out of office today, is it possible that lots of work cannot be carried on? When the local team is in another time zone, the members of the offshore team cannot get updated and complete information, then they are forced to wait.

If it is an organization with many hierarchical relationships, the leader usually has a great information advantage, and the frontline employees depend on the top-down information transmission in a certain sense, rather than direct communication with end users. In this state of opaque information, the information obtained by the ordinary members are incomplete, especially the understanding of other teams and the information provided by the customer. The consequence is that what we made is inconsistent with the result expected by users, and we have to rework to correct it.

Part of the information is missed while being transmitted layer by layer. People in different positions have a habit of “receiving information at their demand.” so that they may interpret the information out of context; while managers tend to receive the information that they think is “correct,” and so on.

One of the biggest disadvantages of this multilevel organization is that communication only occurs in an up-down channel, and the horizontal connection between different roles or functional departments are very weak. If we can't change the organizational structure, we can try to strictly enforce some rules in the team to comply with. Only in this way can we eliminate waste as much as possible while maintaining the organizational structure unchanged.

When someone is absent one day, normally the information transmission may be disconnected at his point. The e-mail state must be set as “out of office,” so that those who send e-mail will know which person cannot receive the message. When we take the initiative to communicate with customers, try not to send e-mails to only one person, but copy as many related people as possible from the customer side and those from our own team, and make CC e-mail a habit. Besides, it is very useful to create the necessary mailing groups, which ensures that everyone receives the message.

When using the instant message tool for communication, try to discuss in the chat group as much as possible, and copy information when necessary.

If we can reduce the hierarchical structure level, promote flattening, and eliminate the opaque state of information, we can fundamentally reduce the length of some information flows. To change the control-oriented multilevel structure to a learning-oriented flat structure, and the work initiation point is changed from supervisor command mode to full staff initiative mode.

Waste in Knowledge Management

We often hold seminars on requirements or technologies, and I sincerely suggest to make two types of records: decisions made and action plans. You might say, do I still need to record if I have all attended meetings? Yes, you do. Who can guarantee that there is no substitution while the project is going on ? Sometimes a written record is needed for the newcomers to take reference. It is applicable to both testing and development.

Team knowledge is not well maintained, especially some research results, which will cause some team members to learn it again later. The main purpose of management of team knowledge, that is, the accumulation of team knowledge, is to reduce the learning cost of subsequent team members. People’s repeated researching is a waste, there is not only time cost, but also loss of knowledge. Since it is impossible to trace how much quantity is lost, it is easy to cause unpredictable losses when delivering.

Some people may say that this is an inevitable learning curve due to the loss of knowledge caused by personnel changes. It is the learning cost that newcomers must pay. But if the cost is too high, it is also a waste, so we still have to do some work to reduce the negative impact of this. After all, in the current software industry, team changes are very frequent. A complete roadmap of handover steps is indispensable. It must define the things to be done, the time arrangement, and the criteria for successful handover.

Sometimes the information transfer between people is not enough, a person spent a lot of energy to solve a problem, but found that it was researched before. It is possible to avoid this problem by managing team knowledge, sharing information in pair work, and actively communicating information. If you have any questions, you must speak them out. It sounds easy, but you have to overcome many obstacles when doing it.

We commend people-to-people communication over perfect documentation. Many people mistakenly think that they don't need documents. This is a relative concept. The correct understanding is that we cannot rely too much on documents. Documents must meet the need to preserve team knowledge. Too much and too little will cause waste.

What kind of knowledge management the team needs depends on whether it is convenient for people who lack knowledge, such as querying and searching, but also on the invest of team maintenance, whether the team can maintain the knowledge base and keep the latest content. If we can't do these two basic things, we don't have to waste energy on it.

We often encounter problems with test document management. I once worked with a large corporation which wanted to save all test case documents to JIRA. The purpose was to make it easier for managers to see reports and assist business personnel to do acceptance test with the completed functions. But the part of our automation is maintained in the code base, which means part of the test cases were copied into JIRA. There will be inconsistencies and conflicts in the replication. Over time, this type of problem requires more and more time to solve.

The waste in knowledge management is also affected by time. We should organize the received information in real time, and promptly reconfirm the information that may be missed or ambiguous. As the old saying goes, strike while the iron is hot. We'd better organize and improve the information as soon as possible, because after a period of time, it will be difficult for us to remember fragmented information.

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