Itchy fingers.


Bison Gear & Engineering, a designer and manufacturer of custom motors, reduced their new product development lead time from several weeks to three days by implementing lean concepts. One of their techniques is the "project blitz." They put a team of engineers together (literally -- they move their desks right next to each other), protect them from interruptions (they stretch police riot tape across the engineers' area so that no one can enter), and work exclusively on a single project until it's completed. Work flows from one engineer to another with no waiting and no distractions. They've realized, as I've written about before, that task switching is toxic to productivity.

Interestingly, Bison goes further than just protecting the team from external interruptions. The engineers also avoid self-generated distractions. Even when one of the team isn't actively working on the project at a given moment, she won't check email or surf the web while waiting for her next task. Experience has taught them that recovering from that type of distraction and getting back into the project flow slows down the blitz -- even though she's just waiting. Instead, she stays attentive to the work that the others are doing, remains more involved in the process, and is able to jump back in and contribute more quickly.

I asked their VP of Engineering about this prohibition on email. He said the emotional cost of this self-imposed disconnect was surprisingly high. People have an ingrained feeling that if they're not working, they're wasting time. Sitting idly at their desks and not -- at the very least -- clearing out their inboxes, felt profoundly unproductive. Even when it was clear that the project progressed faster when they worked this way, they still had itchy fingers.

To me, this is a beautiful example on a small scale of "going slow to go fast." If you can ignore the itchy fingers and the need to be busy every second of the day, you might find that your projects move faster, too.

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