Splitting large things up into small batches: This one is a beauty. Queue theory tells us that when processing work, lots of small batches are easier to process than a smaller number of large batches. All too often in my writing and in my presentations I tend to unconsciously go into “Large Batch” mode – the document gets larger and larger and I start to lose the tight cohesiveness that you would find in a smaller document. As the presentation or the paper gets larger and larger, I find it increasingly difficult to keep my focus, and it is harder to keep the quality high. So I break my presentations down into separate “modules” – groups of slides with a common theme and work on them in relative isolation (I break out each one as a separate slide deck, then merge them later). The same principle applies to writing. I break the document down into individual paragraphs and treat each one as an independent deliverable.
Applying the “5 Whys”. If you know me, then you know I tend to be the kind of person who is most comfortable talking about the big picture. Often I find it difficult or tiresome to dig down into the myriad supporting details needed to support the argument that I’m trying to make. This is where the “5 whys” come in. I look at the problem I’m trying to solve and ask myself, “Why is that a problem?” Usually one or more underlying issues are at play and they are often revealed by asking this question. But I’m not done, so I repeat the process, you guessed it – 5 times. The idea is to drive down to the root cause of the problem. Using the “5 whys” technique helps me to constructively drill down to the important details that I need to bring to the attention of my audience. It’s also useful for irritating the crap out of people.
Applying 5S. 5S stands for:
Shine – go through your document or your presentation and make sure that it is clean. By clean I mean that not a single excess word is present, every concept is clear, every image is well presented, every paragraph aligned – you get the idea.
Sort – make sure that all of your slides are in the right order. Insure that the concepts flow smoothly from one to another. Everything needs to be in its place.
Standardize – Use a common theme or style that ties the whole thing together. It may be the corporate logo on every page, it may be some document standard (IEEE).
Systematize – Make building this document into a process. It may be something that you iterate over time and time again. Even a simple process will allow you to see opportunities for improvement.
Sustain – Schedule your time for working on the document. Make sure that you regularly take time to improve the process you are using and check your work
So there you have it – a complete system for lean document development!