and think about what you can finish
Let’s look at the question of capacity from an agency level. It’s not uncommon for a CFO to describe capacity in terms of annual billing: “we’re a 12 million dollar agency”, which is intended to mean that they have the capacity to handle a million a month in work.
But more often than not, they’re thinking from the perspective of sales, rather than delivery. Your capacity is not the amount of work you can put into motion; it is the amount of work you can finish.
Putting more work in motion than you have the capacity for is a nearly universal trap, sometimes driven by the fear of falling short on needed income, sometimes by obsessive-compulsive behavior, or just because you don’t have a clear understanding of what your capacity actually is.
Regulating flow into the pipeline falls in the domain of project management. Once you push too much work into motion, you can try to mitigate the damage in your work scheduling practices, but there will be a cost. Sometimes what you learn in mitigating ill effects of overcapacity result in improvements in technical practices resulting in increased capacity, but more often it is just time lost. Your goal should be to try to operate under capacity and continuously look for practice improvements that will increase capacity with the same resources.
Keeping Track of Time
Let’s take a look at a critical attribute of our process: how much time we spend coordinating the work. What we’re after here is how we can understand more about this question by how we choose to model it.
Scrum prescribes the allocation of 20% of the available time to coordination tasks, in the form of the meetings listed above. If you are doing Kanban or your bespoke process, then you’re still going to have some kind of distribution like this. You could do retrospectives once a month, and spend more time on feature demos, but one way or another, you’ll likely have a comparable meeting pattern.
Capacity planning is where project management meets work scheduling. Let’s look at it from the perspective time available for work:
When we consider time available for work, we’ve already deducted vacation days, doctors appointments, time blocked for other activities, etc. Your team’s capacity is the time available for work, minus time spend coordinating what needs to be done and time spent staging the work. Coordination and staging activities are essential and necessary; if you shortchange these activities, the work will suffer, but you want to keep it to the minimum necessary to support getting work done.
Sometimes an increase of time spent on meetings and transactional activities is the first indication of an issue; of some inefficiency in the process. Working back to the root cause, perhaps classifying the problem as unnecessary work, unevenness or overburdening, Muri, Muda, and Mura can help us understand what practice change is needed to minimize or prevent recurrence of that same issue. The goal is to build quality assurance into your process. Controlling time drawing away from work-on-task is a key performance indicator of process health.
It’s important to note that the prescribed meetings are not the total of your coordination time. When you have to pull together an ad-hoc meeting with a subject matter expert to clarify the requirements of work in progress, that is also coordination time.
Let's agree to define productivity in terms of throughput. We can debate the meaning of productivity in terms of additional measurements of the business value of delivered work, but as Eliyahu Goldratt pointed out in his critique of the Balanced Scorecard, there is a virtue in simplicity. Throughput doesn’t answer all our questions about business value, but it is a sufficient metric for the context of evaluating the relationship of practices with productivity.