Time-boxing is a method which allows you to do everything that you want to do without the above pitfall.
You get into the office early because you need to review the results of the overnight test run, and mail in the results before the 9:00am meeting.
“Darn, the overnight test failed at stage 6. Why did that fail? I need to figure out why and start it back up. I need some version of the report by 8:30am for the 9:00 meeting. That means I need to start creating the PowerPoint slides at 8:00am. I’ll set my timer for 8:00am.
Man – the error code is so cryptic. I don’t know what it means or how to fix it. I’ll call Carl…it’s his code. Oh – that’s right. Carl doesn’t get in the office until 8:30. But he’s probably awake. I’ll find his cell number in his last email.”
When you bring up email, you notice several urgent emails from your 2nd line manager.
“Okay – I’ll jot a note on my parking lot list to review these emails. The message was sent at 2:00am. Most people are not into the office this early. It’s unlikely that the executives expect a response before the 9:00 meeting. I’ll just make sure to go back to this after the meeting. And the meeting will probably make these email obsolete anyway.”
You open only Carl’s email for his cell number.
Carl: “Hey, John! What’s up?”
“Hey Carl. Sorry to be bothering you at home and so early.”
Carl: “No worries. I was up getting the family ready for the day. What can I do for ya?”
“Well, I came in to review the overnight results and it got stuck on stage 6. Any ideas?
Carl: “mmm… that’s odd. I ran my unit tests on it and it ran through all 8 stages without a hitch. How many test inputs did you use?”
“Approximately, 1,578 files.”
Carl: “Approximately, eh?”
Carl: “Well – I confess that my unit test only ran with 20 input data files. I ran with all the files you sent me at the time. It’s always helpful to get samples of the real data that you will be using.”
“Oh! That’s great. Let me jot a note to send you these files as well.”
Carl: “Cool. So — back to today’s issue. Hopefully it’s running into a data limit and not a data validation issue. If it’s only a data limit, we can batch the test runs into 20 file limits and it should run fine. If it’s a data validation issue – that will take some time to debug and diffuse. By you sending me those files, I’ll be able to debug that issue (if that’s the problem) when I get into the office.“
“Okay. Can you hold on the phone while I run with just 20 files?”
Carl: “Sure… if you don’t mind me and the kids eating cereal while you do that.”
“Sure! What cereal are we having?”
You run your experiment and get all 20 files through stage 6,7,8
“Carl – that seems to work. I’ll manually segment the rest into 20 files groups. I’ll pipe as many through I can before the meeting.”
Carl: “That sounds good. Jot down any other notes and I can automate those modifications directly into the batch runs when I get into the office. It won’t make them for the 9:00 meeting – but it will help in the future.”
“Can do. And thanks.”
You create a batch routine that takes your 1,578 files and parses them into 20 file chunks through stage 6,7 and 8. Once the first 20 gets through stage 6, they automatically move onto stage 7 and then into stage 8 (while the next 20 are being processed through stage 6, etc). This way just in case you can’t get through all 1,578 files before the meeting – you’ll still be able to report some preliminary results at the 9:00 meeting.
While those files are running, you create a PowerPoint slide deck on the 20 files that have already completed. This way, you will only have to update the data, analysis and recommendations at 8:00am. You also jot a parking lot note to send both the batch code and files to Carl.
Co-workers start trickling into the office. Your tests are still running and your PowerPoint template is complete. If worse comes to worse, you can present your status with these files. You take your timer with you to the coffee station and chat with others.
At 8:00am your timer goes off. You return to your desk to complete your report. At this point, only 750 files fully completed the tests. You use that data to update your deck. You take the extra step to create an analysis and next step recommendations. At 8:30am you see Carl walk down the hall.
Carl: “Hey! How did those tests go?”
“Great! Do you have a moment to take a look at the results? I want to bounce off my analysis and recommendations off you….before the meeting.”
Carl: “Sure! “
While you and Carl are reviewing the recommendations, an additional 500 files complete. You and Carl contemplate updating the report and analysis with these new test results. You decide against it. It would cause unnecessary panic (and risk of mistakes) in updating the slides right before the meeting. Instead, you decided to add an extra slide to explain the situation on the final 1000 files (more on the importance of full transparency in my online continuous coaching series). Since a large percentage of the files are still running (nearly 50%), you state that your recommendations may change. You add an expectation of completion. You also share that the next 500 files did complete just a few moments ago and they are still in line with your current analysis and recommendation.
Stay tuned for the next article (Replay with additional proactive techniques) to find out how to handle this situation with additional techniques beyond time-boxing.
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