Where Did the Pencils Go?

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Where Did the Pencils Go?

At the gym this week, I searched for a pencil. I use a pencil to track my workouts. Am I increasing my weights? Am I maintaining the number of sets (3)? Am I settling for the same old, same old?

I need the data.

But, where are the pencils?

If you, like me, are a “gym rat,” you know the problem. People take a pencil from the container near the door. They use the pencil. However, unlike me, they don’t always remember to return it when they finish their workout.

Why? A gazillion reasons. Maybe they take a shower, and the pencil goes into their bag. Maybe they stop to talk, and the pencil goes into their car. Maybe it’s another reason.

I rush home to take my shower. I don’t talk to people on my way out the door. I’m a woman on a mission. Why?

Because while I need the gym data to make sure I don’t slack off at the gym, I also need the trend data of my workouts and weight over time. I don’t weigh myself until after my shower, which is after the gym.

Daily data helps us know that what we did was useful that day. But, trend data is where the gems are.

Trend data tells us if we get stronger or weaker over time. Trend data tells us if we make progress. We have good days and bad days. Either day might fool us into thinking we’re great or terrible. But the trends don’t lie. We can see the reality with trends.

I might not like the reality. But, I’ll take reality over fooling myself any day.

The lack of pencils indicates that people are tracking their data. However, the lack of pencils also means that they are a scarce resource. My gym could do a better job of keeping pencils available. You might see this where you work, too.

When I mentioned this to the gym management, their first reaction was, “It’s too expensive. We’re always out of pencils!” I suggested that keeping pencils scarce was one reason they were always out of pencils. If they had an overabundance of pencils, people wouldn’t hoard them.

For about two weeks, we did have a ton of pencils. Then, the pencil cup fell over and the pencils fell behind the filing cabinet with all the workout plans. All of a sudden, we had a pencil shortage. People returned to hoarding pencils.

I realized what was happening. Why? Because I’ve seen people stop and chat. They don’t look to see if they put the pencil in the pencil cup. They don’t look to see if they knock the pencil cup over when they take a new workout form out of the pile. They don’t look for the available pencils on the floor. They only look up, not down.

I don’t just look up. I look down too because I’m short. I looked behind the filing cabinet where the pencils tend to congregate. Think “pencil-party.” No one else had looked there.

When I asked for help moving the filing cabinet, we discovered about 30 pencils. Aha! Pencil crisis averted.

You might not have a pencil shortage at work. More likely, you have a shortage of some sort of people. But, you still have a scarcity problem. If so, you might be able to optimize around it. Here are some ways to consider reframing the problem:

  • Who has the problem with the scarcity?
  • Is it “too expensive” to fix the problem? Too expensive compared to what?
  • If you thought of another way to fix the problem, would that be okay? For example, what if developers tested, as opposed to just testers testing? Is that even possible where you work?
  • What data do you need to gather, on a daily basis and for trends, to expose the problem? Can you measure data such as your technical debt, for example, as a consequence of your scarcity problem?

Data exposes your reality. You might not like your reality. I’m not so sure I like it when I get on the scale, and it doesn’t tell me I’m the same weight I was last week. On the other hand, as long as my weight doesn’t trend up, I might be fine.

Once you have the data, you can decide how you want to solve your problem. That’s what adaptable problem solvers do.

Where Johanna is Speaking

If you liked this article about adaptable problem solving, you might want to know about my November workshops in Israel. I will be teaching several workshops, including one about agile program management and one about organizational change. See A Week with Johanna. Please do join me.

Aug 26, Webinar, Hiring Developers Without Fear

Sept 2, Webinar, Agile Program Management: Networks, Not Hierarchies

Oct 23, Webinar, Agile Hiring: It’s a Team Sport

Read More of Create an Adaptable Life

f you only read the newsletter, you may want to read the blog, where I write more. Do join me on Create an Adaptable Life.

And, if you only read this newsletter or blog, you might want to read my other blogs, Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People.


© 2014 Johanna Rothman

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