In a previous article I claimed that “Value delayed is value denied.”  This article continues this theme.

In this article I show how multitasking causes the delivery of significant value to citizens to be delayed and thus, ultimately, denied to the citizens.

Value delayed is value denied.

Second, the belief that “The sooner we start, the sooner we finish” is clearly wrong when we are talking about projects being completed by a finite set of resources.  Why does this matter?  It matters because operating on this assumption causes people to drive the system (the City) into greater and greater levels of multitasking.  Today, the release of work to the system is not done properly and as a result, the system is choked with work.

Systems that are choked with work give the illusion of being highly efficient.  But this is only because we are making the assumption that “If everyone is busy all the time, then the system must be operating in a highly efficient manner.”  This is not valid.  The people in a system can be fully utilized and still not be doing anything productive.

Figure one shows an simple, idealized case from the world of projects.  We have three projects (red, green and blue.)  Each project requires two years of focused effort to complete:

womtWhen these projects are executed without multitasking, the red project finishes two years after starting, the green project two years after that, and the blue project finishes at the end of the sixth year.

Of course, no real projects fit into such nice, neat packages, but let’s stick with this idealized case for now.  We can always make things more complex later.

Now, look at figure two:

wmtIn this case, we have the same three projects, and each project still requires two years of focused effort to complete.  However, in this case, we are showing the effect of multitasking, where the resources work on one project for three months, then switch to another project for the next three months, and then to the next project, and so on until all projects are completed.

Notice that the total time to complete all three projects is still six years.  Note that there was no loss of efficiency in this idealized case, although in the real world it’s unlikely that we would be so fortunate.  In the real world, multitasking does cause a loss of efficiency, and the loss is not small.  But still, it’s a secondary effect to what I’m writing about here.

So multitasking didn’t cause a loss of efficiency.  But wait a second — do what want the City to be efficient, or is being efficient really just a requirement (a necessary condition) to achieving something else?

In my view the goal of the City is “To deliver more value to citizens, now and in the future.”  I don’t care if the City has to be efficient to achieve this or not.  If they can achieve it without being efficient, fine.  If they need to be efficient to achieve it, then again, fine.  Either way, the standard that I hold them to is whether they have achieved the goal.  That is what matters.

So when we consider these two very different modes of operation (multitasking vs. non-multitasking) is there any difference in value delivered to citizen?

Well, in the non-multitasking case (figure one), the citizens started to receive the benefits of the red project at the end of year two.  At the end of year four, they started to receive the benefits of the green project, and at the end of year six, they started to receive the benefits of the blue project.

But look at what happened in the multitasking case (figure two)!  Even though there was no loss of efficiency, the citizens were denied the benefits of the red project until the end of June in the sixth year.  They were also denied the benefits of the green project until October of the sixth year.  There was no change in when they began to receive the benefits of the blue project.

It is equally clear that the assumption “The sooner we start, the sooner we finish” is not valid when multitasking is in effect.  Look at the green project.  When we allowed multitasking, that project started sooner, but finished later.  The blue project also started sooner, but still finished no earlier than before.

Our concern should not be when projects start, but instead, when they finish.  The City Council should be concerned as to whether citizens are getting all of the value they are paying for, as soon as it can be delivered to them.  Members of the Council should know whether the City is working projects in a manner that guarantees that the projects that will generate the greatest value to citizens are the ones which will be completed 1) first and 2) as quickly as possible.

(As an aside, let me say that in a future article I will write about small, localized tweaks to various policies, and why such tweaks will be utterly insufficient in terms of bringing the City to the point where it is consistently achieving it’s goal.)

Let’s say that in this example (which is again, an idealized case), all projects are equally costly in terms of the investment that must be made, and in terms of the benefit that each will begin to bring when it is completed.  Let’s assume that each project costs $6M to complete, and that over a useful life of 30 years, the project will create $18M in value to the citizens of Woodinville.

If the project costs $6M to complete and ultimately brings $18M in value, then the project creates +$12M in benefits (value to citizens.)  If the useful life of the project is 30 years, then the project generates value to citizens at the rate of $12M / 30 years = $400K per year.  Again, this is an assumption.  Every project will have a payback curve that we can only really guess at.

Now, in the case of the red project, the delivery of value to citizens is delayed by three years and six months, due to multitasking.  This amounts to $1.4M in value that is totally wasted.

Completion of the green project under multitasking is also delayed, in this case by one year and nine months.  This amounts to another $700K of value to citizens that is totally wasted due to multitasking.

Adding the two losses results in about $2.1M in value to citizens that is wasted and cannot (for all practical purposes) ever be delivered to them:

Value delayed is value denied.

Now, you can and almost certainly will object to this informal analysis.  You can attack it on many different fronts and in all cases I’d love to read your reasoned comments.

My bottom line conclusion, however, is unlikely to be changed.  That bottom line is this:

There is a world of difference between being efficient and being effective.  There is much that the City could do to operate in a manner that is far more effective than is the current mode of operation.  But the quest for efficiency leads good managers to do the wrong things.

The real solution to the problem outlined here is to recognize that the City is a multi-project environment.  It should therefore be using a multi-project management method that has been shown to be effective in representative environments.  If this was done, the City would deliver more value to citizens sooner, and, as a pleasant side-effect, the level of chaos present in the City’s operations would drop by 2/3rds or more.  The City Manager and the City Council would also (routinely) have the information they needed to manage well.

Finally, it’s important to understand that the people managing the system today are genuinely trying to do the best possible job for the citizens.  In fact, in a perverse way, we would likely be better off if they were not quite as fastidious as they are today.  If you know the problems inherent with the so-called “Waterfall” model of software development, you can get a sense of what I mean by this.

The future isn’t written yet.  I believe that Woodinville could be a model for every other city in the United States.  To become such a model we have to change quite a few things about how the City is managed.  Such change won’t come easily.  But it is possible and it is utterly worth the fight and the struggle that will be required to achieve it.