Relax and Slow Down - You Will Accomplish More!
The "Buffet Rules" are timeless, simple, and practical fundamentals for approaching and tackling any project or task. (You’re probably thinking of Warren Buffett. Nope...and his last name is spelled differently.) I am talking about the rules when you go to the buffet at Shoney’s or Bamboo Garden, etc. You don’t run to the first thing you see and start chomping away. Yet that is what many people do in work and life. We start working away as soon as we arrive at the company, checking and responding to emails, new "urgent" tasks, interruptions, and then wonder what we accomplished at the end of the day.
This is the way that the Lio clan applies the "Buffet Rules" when we go out:
One can approach each day and any project or task in a similar manner. Relax. You can accomplish much more, be less stressed, and more productive by simply taking the initial time beforehand to contemplate, survey and map out the situation, resources, and processes. Eliminate distractions (turn off the emails and phone, put a sign out that you are in “monk mode” and not to be disturbed). It is important to define what not to do. Add in a buffer for sudden changes and be flexible. Then just get to the task at hand.
Don’t forget to celebrate when you are done and remember - there’s always room for Jello.
Product Managers and developers (and everyone in general) should observe two laws: 1) Law of the Vital Few and 2) Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.
Law of the Vital Few
The Law of the Vital Few is better known as the 80/20 rule or Pareto’s Principle. Basically, approximately 80 percent of an input affects 20% of the output while 20% of any input will affect 80% of the outcome. That means 20% of your time, resources, efforts, or customers is responsible for 80% of all of your results. This is one of the key concepts that I learned from ITW and we employ the rule daily.
Think about it and see if this is true (I bet that it will be close):
So what do you do with this knowledge?
Do more with less. Focus on what matters most. You stop treating everything as equal and start paying attention to the 20 percent. Give VIP treatment to your 20% of customers and keep them happy – give them special status, i.e. Financial institutions have “premier” status for some clientele and airlines have special rewards and privileges for frequent fliers. Fix the 20% of the software code that will affect product quality and perception.
Also consider whether to treat differently or even cut out of some of the remaining "80%". You might be losing money or devoting scant resources on a customer who buys once in a blue moon, e.g. maintain a legacy product feature or give them deep discounts - it may be worthwhile to cut your losses and invest elsewhere for better results.
Parkinson's Law of Triviality
Parkinson's Law of Triviality is also known as the “bike shed effect”. It refers to the tendency of people in organizations to give disproportionate attention to trivial issues and details.
Ever been in a product development or release meeting where attendees spend hours debating seemingly trivial items such as lettering, signage, color while comparatively bigger and more technical issues are seemingly discounted? The reason is that issues such as lettering, signage and color are easier to grasp by all (suddenly, everyone becomes self-appointed experts) while other issues are more difficult to understand and critique (no one dares speak on such matters to expose how little they know). The result can be that precious resources and time will be spent on these items instead of the much more essential and critical concerns. For example, you can end up having to devote development time to create multiple artistic concepts and designs for a committee approval.
C. Northcote Parkinson observed that an approval committee for a nuclear power plant spent the majority of its time on issues such as the materials for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself – because everyone is an “expert” on making a bike shed versus the plant design. (In fact, they could not even come to a consensus on the bike shed and had to schedule a follow up meeting!)
What can you do? Like it or not, you cannot fight human nature. One proactive move is to meet individually with the “players” who will be in the meeting beforehand to discuss what the meeting expectations are and to get their buy-in and approvals beforehand. Practice what I referred to as “Shuttle Diplomacy” so that there are no surprises and that your goals are shared goals.
Be aware of these laws in your work and life.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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