Ruminations

A lot happens before ideas become solutions.




At ElixWare we want to bring you more than just great, affordable software. We want to let you know how and why we do what we do.

Our Ruminations blog will bring you insights into how we got here and some of the things we consider when trying to help you run your business. We hope it gives you a better understanding of how we strive to better serve your needs.

Too Much of a Good Thing

My digital credenza runneth over

Bees As A Role Model
I know what you're thinking, "What? A blog post on Halloween? Shouldn't you be out scaring children, stealing candy from babies and handing out mini toothbrush/toothpaste sets?" Don't you worry, I'm never too busy to do that. But I am busy these days. Very busy. In fact, too busy.

"It's not uncommon for me to reply "busy is good" when someone tells me they're busy."

It's not uncommon for me to reply "busy is good" when someone tells me they're busy. Whether it's a family member, friend or a business owner, being busy is much better than the alternative. But when "busy" becomes "burdened" it's time to send up a flare and find a solution. When it becomes "buried", well, we end up here.

For Halloween I'll be my normal "James the monster", which isn't much different "everyday James" except for the makeup to hide the bags under my eyes. But I considered going as a bee. Bees never seem to stop. Either they are collecting pollen, dancing directions for the hive, tending to the larvae or doing some kind of maintenance chores. At least that's how it appears. But the fact is that bees do sleep. Studies show that they sleep five to eight hours a day (which is more sleep than I normally get). And much like here at ElixWare, bees divide up the labor and responsibilities. Since ElixWare doesn't have a hive full of worker bees we need to work smarter, and be more efficient, then bees are. And that's a pretty high bar.

Creep
Projects can suffer from feature creep, scope creep and even mission creep. But workload doesn't creep up on you as much as it lands on top of you. When this happens, even simple things like maintaining your To-Do list gets pushed to the back burner while you fend off the "Where is that deliverable?" questions and try to herd all your overdue items into a queue.

Here at ElixWare we practice a 'division of labor', which happens to be very bee-like. At any point in time it's never equally divided, but in the end it all works itself out. But as our opportunities grow, not only do our workloads increase, but our division of labor becomes less efficient and can end up out of sync.

Due to project dependencies, Aimée may be waiting on me for something that I can't get to until I finish what I'm currently working on. And Chloe may be waiting on me to send her some requirements so she can get me what I need, but I haven't sent them yet because I'm busy working on something else that someone else is waiting for. These dependency conflicts produce what is known as thrashing in computer science parlance, and quickly end up in a locking situation.

"This will sound familiar to anyone who manages a business, whether it's on your own or as partners."

This will sound familiar to anyone who manages a business, whether it's on your own or as partners (like at ElixWare). As more work comes in, your business grows. And as you identify more market opportunities, you need to dedicate resources and effort to developing additional products and services. If done properly, this also grows your business. But you're not just growing your business, you're increasing your workload, responsibilities and deliverables. And for some of these items we happen to be our own client, which should bring to mind the tale of the "cobbler's children".

This is the point where some of you will think, "Just hire more help." That is an option, isn't it? Bees don't try to run their colony with just a handful of bees. Problem solved, right? Well, not so fast. Even if hiring one additional person, we'll need to have answers to these very important questions:

  • How much time, money, and lost productivity will it take to get a new hire up to speed so they can actually contribute?
  • Will I fall further behind while training someone new?
  • What do we do with the new hire once the temporary surge has expired and the backlog of work has been discharged?
  • How will the additional payroll affect our budgets and future project costs and proposals?

Hiring someone is a commitment to that person and requires us to provide training and resources to ensure they are productive and successful. But that's hard to do if we're only addressing a short term increase in work. What about a temp? Hiring a temp worker isn't cost effective if all the training they'll receive will go out the window once they move on to their next assignment. This is a many small businesses find themselves in.

No Crystal Ball Required
Wasn't this predictable? Of course it was. But sometimes, when you're neck deep in work as well as trying to focus on looking ahead, you miss what's around you (forest, meet trees). It's like noticing that the bathtub is draining slowly. Most of the time you realize it while you're using the tub, which isn't the most opportune time to deal with it. And unless you get back to it right away life will distract you until your next shower. Having distance - such as offering observations and advice to a client rather than being the client - makes spotting and predicting these things easier. Planning to address the slow drain is much easier when you're not in the shower.

But there's another type of "distance" than that of being an observer: temporal distance. This is the time that has elapsed since you last worked on something. Think of this in terms of "out of sight means out of mind". Temporal distance not only pushes the details of something out of your mind, it means you need to spend time familiarizing yourself with it again. This can take several hours depending on the complexity of the project, how long it's been since you worked on it, and even the complexity of what you've worked on in the mean time. This is why project notes and descriptive comments in code are critical.

As your workload increases, not only do you forget details but sometimes a project or two completely slips your mind. This means you're not even aware of everything else that's on your plate, which reduces the predictability of the pending gridlock. So what can we do to prevent this? Our friend the To Do list.

"Keeping your To Do list from getting longer is not being productive, it's being defensive."

Pro tip: avoid having “maintain your To Do list” as a To Do list item.

Keeping your To Do list from getting longer is not being productive, it's being defensive. And it's not a sustainable strategy. It's tantamount to switching to paper plates because your sink is full of dishes.

Timber!
At some point the backlog becomes a "just do something" scenario (but not a "just do something" kind of thing). Getting started and achieving some momentum is important. The goal is chipping away at my To Do list, with the two most important parts being:
  • Keeping my To Do list current, which can become daunting at times.
  • Following my own advice, which can be harder than it seems.

If you're wondering how I got so busy, it's been a combination of good fortune, good intentions and bad timing. I was working on a tool to help better manage active projects. Not just for us, but for our clients. They would be able to access the project information, see the status of deliverables, add comments, update lists of requirements we need from them and even a digital punch list. This is still a priority project, but the recent temporal distance has added to the delays

We also have several projects on the front burner, a few on the back burner, and two or three that are scheduled to start within the next three months. On top of that we have a lot of blog posts including the first five of a new monthly series, other related posts, two more in our A Brief Glimpse series, and several others. And of course, no wrap-up of this Summer is complete without the tale of the unbending knee.

Ironically, one of our goals at ElixWare is to help small business owners save time. Ideally, so they can finally get around to the pile of stuff on their credenza that they never have time for. Well, my digital credenza runneth over.

Hard Reset

So why am I writing a new blog post while I have over a dozen in the pipeline, and too many projects that are inching along towards completion rather than racing to the finish line? Because I need a benchmark. A "New Years Day going to the gym" revival. I need to pretend I just took a long vacation, that I feel rejuvenated and that I'm a new man. I need a renaissance.


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We are a small team with a lot of experience, specializing in software development, design, and workflow, process & project management. We are fiercely dedicated to helping you do what you do best — run your business — without getting bogged down in the mountains of paper and hours of screen time required to do it. We are equally dedicated to protecting your privacy and your data. Learn more about our privacy policy.