Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's faster in the slow lane (?!)

Are we all physicists?

We might be.

This might be another take on the tortoise and the hare, but it's more about flows in projects, whether WIP flows in the Kanban, conventional team throughput, or staffing pressures and policies. And, for the quants among us, there's a bit of physics as well.

Imagine this experience (we've all been there): Driving on a multi-lane highway at moderate traffic volume, everyone is in their place: fast guys are in the fast lanes; slow guys are in the slow lanes. All is order.

Now, the volume builds, and you notice an inexorable shift of volume to the fast lanes: everyone wants to get ahead of the crowd.

Now it gets interesting: the fast lanes slow down with increasing volume but the slow lanes keep on moving... moving in fact faster than the fast lanes! And, as volume builds, the phenomenon is more apparent, until... volume overwhelms the whole system and all lanes move together in fits and starts.

Fits and starts: that's physics, actually. So is the slow lane being faster.

And what are the physics that apply to Kanban boards and all the rest of the flows in projects?
Answer: reflected energy. The load (capacity) can't absorb the energy (volume) being thrown at it, so it throws it back in the form of reflected energy (everyone stepping on the brakes).

Do you have microwave waveguides in your project, or any kind of load-matched transmission system? If so, you probably measure the return loss: energy transmitted but not accepted by the load, thus to be reflected.

And, if the reflections are timed right they create coherent waves (standing waves). Thus, in traffic, and elsewhere, with too much volume being applied, you might be standing still in one place, only to move ahead at the speed limit at another place, then to stop again... ergo, standing waves of coherent reflection.

And, we see it in all manner of project flows... the lesson being obvious... throw more volume at the fast guys (fast team) and eventually they'll slow down until everything they are doing is being done slowly, only to be passed by the less-fast (we won't say mediocre, or anything like that)

In the software business, we have Brooks law [I paraphrase]: Adding people (volume) to a slow (late) project makes it slower (later)

Your job: volume manager. No point in throwing good energy after bad... it's just going be reflected right back at you.

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