How to reverse the bullshit-to-actual-work-ratio

Most of the time when consultants are invited to come to a company it is because a company is burning to get something changed and get it done. It could be something specific that needs to be delivered, like a particular software functionality or the entire organisation could be in need of change and the consultants are the ones who are required to get it on the right track.

Very often the part of ‘sorting out the entire organisation’ is a very multi-faceted exercise, requiring engagement at multiple levels and across more traditional departments. The expectations are usually similar and quite general: save us money, make us deliver quicker and help us figure out how to deliver stuff that customers really want.

Divide and conquer

The initial step requires the consultancy to figure out where to start and what is actually working and what is not working. This requires first of all an assessment of the bullshit work to constructive work ratio and is followed by a plan or a roadmap that enables reduction of the ratio in favour of actual work that brings value.

Bullshit work may sound vaguely familiar, and it should because we all do it and there is a lot of it. So, let’s have a closer look at what bullshit work really is? Some of the top examples are activities such as:

  • sending (as well as receiving!) reminders,
  • looking for information through a maze of documents that seem to have just been dumped anywhere to get them off the authors computer desktop,
  • not being sure what the requirements or acceptance criteria for a particular task are (usually because the person writing them was himself not sure what he wants),
  • going (or suffering) through work processes that was designed and was amazing ‘back in the day’ when you could still smoke in your office (and had a computer somewhere in the organisation),
  • writing reports – because we need to do that – without ever really knowing why the report is needed, how it will be used or if it will be used,
  • sitting in meetings that don’t seem to have a goal (either you were late, or it really doesn’t have a goal),
  • generally working on tasks that don’t bring user and customer value.
  • Please feel free to fill in your favourite example of bullshit work here: ………………………………………..

NOTE: If you work at a company that has more than 15 employees, and you cannot find at least parts of your workplace in any of the points above, please get in touch.

Strengthen anti-bullshit intelligence

Bullshit work costs time and we (people) don’t tolerate it. Research has shown that working 6-hour days instead of 8-hour days actually leads to better productivity. Why? I guess because you cut out the bullshit work, get to the point of what is actually important, and use the rest of the time for something else. But there is also a massively important lesson to be learnt here. How come we are able to know what is important and squeeze this into the 6 hours, while leaving the bullshit work out? It is because people are intelligent. They see what works and what doesn’t. Give them a chance to do this!

Your job as a consultant is basically to enable this. Stop the rot and reverse the ratio of bullshit work to actual work that brings value. Lead teams to do work that makes sense for the customers of the company and the users of the products that they provide. The people working there are not crazy and will realise when they are able to contribute to solving real problems that make a difference. And they will enjoy doing it far more than mundane tasks that are justified though passive complacency and refusal to engage. Give them an opportunity to show they want to engage.

So what’s the Scrum-part in it?

Maybe you’re asking yourself; what does all of this has to do with Scrum, a Scrum Master, Business Agility? Are you serious?! First and foremost, Scrum works. In some organisations, after receiving a scrum training or taking part in a workshop people will tell you ‘this Scrum thing is quite interesting, but it cannot work in our organisation’. And then you ask why that may be the case, you get an answer usually followed by you either falling asleep or your eyes popping out in fury.

Back to the point, Scrum is an amazing framework to diagnose challenges in teams and organisations and deal with them in an iterative inspect and adapt manner. It is a framework that enables you to ask the right questions and has values and principles serving as a guiding light to ensure you not only ask the tough questions but also get tough and eye-opening answers in return. With a Scrum Master it gives you someone committed to a higher call of getting rid of bullshit and helping you focus on the valuable parts of work.

I’m sorry, but if you think that Scrum doesn’t work then you either work alone in a dark cave, or you just haven’t done it properly. It is time to eliminate bullshit work and replace it with something that adds value not only to the customers and users, but also to your time at work.


Foto: pixabay license, geralt

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Tihomir Vollmann-Popovic Tihomir Vollmann-Popovic


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