We often times find ourselves blocked on a task, whether it be because you run into a question that requires a decision either on your part or someone else’s or all the sudden the scope of the task suddenly increased and requires a significant amount of level of effort than you had originally anticipated or someone else needs to do something before you can finish yours.
Although it is tempting to move on to the next task on your list, it is better to try to resolve the blocker first. This best applies to tasks where you need to deliver a deliverable to a customer, client, or supervisor. You want to reduce the lead time (time from the original request to the final delivery) as much as possible. Having consistent low lead times on your deliverables increases customer and boss satisfaction. Any this doesn’t just have to do with timeliness, but quality as well. When you jump from task to task and then revisit an old task, you lose the familiarity to it that you previously had while you were in the moment. This can lead to more time to refresh yourself on the task or even worse cause you to forget something potentially critical. By staying focused on a task, blocked or not, it improves quality of your deliverable.
As a leader in your organization, you can promote this concept in your team as a way to improve team efficiency, and improve delivery times and product quality. When a team member becomes blocked on a task ask them to follow the following steps.
- Inform a manager when you are blocked and that you will coordinate with the blocker to get it unblocked
- Let the blocker know that they are blocking you
- Offer to help the blocker get unblocked as quickly as possible
- If unable to foreseeably unblock in a reasonable amount of time before the deliverable is due, escalate to a manager
- Only move onto another task after the above steps have been taken and you are still blocked. Work on a task that you feel you will be able to complete by the time the blocked task will be unblocked, that way you can still pump out quick wins and not have to jump back and forth between the tasks if neither is complete.
Reducing lead times is mostly applied to the concept of “single-piece flow.” The idea is that by working on one item at a time, you can pump out more products over time, increasing your output capacity and increase your wins over-all. Although wait times can be inevitable and one should certainly try to maximize that time by getting other work done, it is best practice to take your first task as far as you can, helping to get it unblocked, before moving on to your next task. By asking your team to try and reduce their lead times in this manner, leaders can effectively bring about change and improve team performance.