Scheduling: A Massive Waste of Time

by Valerie McLean

Here at tictoc, we don't schedule our work.  I couldn't tell you definitively what each member of staff will be working on today, never mind tomorrow or next week. Given my role as Head of Projects, some of you might find this quite alarming, but it's the truth, we don't need to schedule. 

This is because we’ve developed a system whereby work is only ever ready for the team when it is in small manageable chunks. This approach might seem a little daunting, but with a culture of constant communication, it works a dream.

We used to use a push system where project and account managers would fight amongst themselves for precious time with the team. Whoever shouted the loudest had their tasks dealt with first. From there, the development, design and digital teams were given tasks within set time slots and any unexpected delay threw the whole schedule out of sync. 

This meant daily conflicts arose as deadlines weren't met and the stresses were amplified throughout the whole building and ultimately out to our clients. Work was rushed and consequently of a poorer quality than we would have liked.

This is a common problem in the digital world: so many unknowns with legacy code, browser updates, a major bug or sudden server problems means you have to drop everything and deal with it. Not only that, but trying to find software which allows tasks to be scheduled in such a way where all the team could see it and could be easily updated across all departments was nothing short of a nightmare. Achieving all of this without micromanaging and asking the team for constant updates..nigh impossible!

Goodbye Scheduling!

We needed to change something. We needed to find a system that would work for everyone, internally and externally - after all, our clients are as important as our staff.

The main things to achieve were greater transparency, greater control and better communication.

We started with control. By splitting larger jobs into smaller pieces, we were able to more accurately predict how long something would take. Instead of weeks, it was days, even hours. Increasing predictability gave us more control over the work we were doing and helped us manage client expectations more effectively.

Transparency was the next issue to tackle. We found that team members were only really involved in the jobs they were given and didn't have much of an idea about the overall picture and understand what others were dealing with on a daily basis. We needed to allow the whole team to know where the bottlenecks were and where they could help each other.

So, we decided to move from a push system to a pull system. In short, the team would now choose a task from a list that was waiting for action, rather than just doing the task they were given. This gave the team more control over what they were doing as they could quickly identify if they were the best person for a particular job. Instead of waiting to be assigned, for the first time they could just go for it! 

In day to day operations, the list is regularly checked to ensure the highest priority tasks are reaching the team first to ensure clients are equally serviced.

We also limit the work in progress to focus the team on finishing tasks rather than just starting lots of things. They now have to focus their efforts in one place at a time, doing things that they choose.

This introduction also helped solve the third issue. Communication. Now, we put all tasks on to a “Kanban” board in the main studio of the building. We stand around it each morning, celebrate what has been completed the previous day, talk about what is in progress and what is coming up. Each department can see what their colleagues are working on and can see how they might be able to help if there is a bottleneck somewhere.

On the other side, the team can see where the gaps are, so they can take an opportunity to deal with some technical debt or can work on developing some new skills. This is actively encouraged at tictoc and not something we've ever had a chance to empower people with before.

The change is amazing. We can now predict how long something will take and manage expectations of our clients, without the mad scheduling spreadsheets and software and fights over which work should take priority. We all know the work will get done and we can tell, at a glance how long it will take.

We work more closely with our clients and that means that we have the oversight on what they are going to need from us over the next few months. We can plan accordingly so these tasks reach the team at the right time well before the client deadline.

If things come in last minute, they don't disrupt things too much, because everything is much smaller and easier to deal with. We simply prioritise and it is back to business as usual.

It may seem counterintuitive, but everything runs more smoothly without a schedule. We chat every day not only about the work coming in, but also about how to make this process, better and smoother. It’s a constant cycle of improvement.

In short, we found scheduling is nothing but a massive waste of time!