Eliminate Waste: Caretaker of the Week

Apparently I’m stuck on the topic of decisions, but whereas the last post was about manifesting decisions, this one is about avoiding them. Well, at least a certain kind of decisions: The kind where teams need to do something regularly, but it doesn’t matter which team member does it, as long as it gets done. Let me give you some examples:

  • Who takes care of ad-hoc support requests in a team of admins doing kanban
  • Which scrum master writes the weekly “What are the scrum masters doing, anyway”-email
  • Which team member attends the SoS. (In my workplace the SoS is a stand up of team members, not the scrum masters.)

Because each of these decisions is tiny and not very significant on its own, people are sometimes reluctant to agree on a long-term arrangement that eliminates the string of tiny decisions. They figure, they’ll just take them each time they present themselves, because, hey, tiny, right? What ill could possibly happen?

Turns out, a variety of ills:

  • Decisions can take surprisingly long – those lost minutes add up
  • Assignees forget irregular duties quite easily – more easily than regular ones
  • If there even is an assignee: Groups tend to forget the decision itself
    • Example: UX input is missing in story grooming, because the UX team forgot to appoint someone to attend grooming during stand up
    • Variation: Whenever the decision is forgotten, the duty defaults to the team member that feels most responsible, leading to unequal workload and dissatisfaction
  • People are needlessly disturbed
    • Example: Everyone reads email request to the whole group followed by coordinating who will answer. (The opposite – no one reacts – isn’t appealing, either.)

It boils down to: Each tiny decision either needlessly distracts many people or the according task isn’t done or both. To make matters worse, I can’t think of a single instance where the “whenever they come”-approach was advantageous (for regular and frequent duties).

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: Assign responsibility on a weekly basis. For example, we have an

  • Admin of the week
  • UXer of the week
    • Handles all email requests
    • Gives ad-hoc help with UX questions
    • Attends all grooming sessions
    • Presents at the review meeting
  • SM of the week
    • Writes a weekly newsletter to inform about SM work
    • Moderates SoS
    • Facilitates big inter-team retrospective
  • SoS representative of Team $name of the Week

Yep, really not hard to implement and still, I see teams haggle things out again and again and again… What a waste. *sigh*

(Even simpler than a weekly assignment is a permanent one, so that one person keeps doing a recurring task. But “per week” is a great compromise for unpopular tasks.)

Nifty Add-On 1: Fixed Rotation

Go the whole nine yards and determine how the weekly duty will rotate from team member to team member. We rotate in alphabetical order.

If you need a memory aid, have a physical token that you pass on. Note the rotation order on the token.

Nifty Add-On 2: Bundle Interruptions & Repetitive Stuff

We originally created the “UXer of the Week” to take care of email requests, but quickly discovered a host of repeating stuff that the UXotW could also do. This lowered the number of tiny decisions significantly.

The UXotW now has a (check)list of tasks. She became a shield that enables all others to work in peace 🙂

Update: There is now research saying it’s advantageous to eliminate as many decisions as possible.