As I was driving today, I pulled up behind a car that was stopped at a light. The light turned green, but the car didn’t move. I waited a couple of seconds, then switched lanes and drove around it. As I looked in my rear-view mirror to see the car just beginning to move, I thought “What a terrible driver!”
Why did I think that? It’s because we expect certain levels of driving in a civilized society, minimal thresholds of competency, or, if you will, service. I quickly thought of my daughter, who is learning to drive and displays a PERMIT DRIVER sign in the back of our car. Of course, the reason that learners need to display such signs is largely to manage expectations, which is to say, to convey that other drivers should expect a lower class of service around this driver. For instance:
- Longer reaction time at stop lights
- Less predictability with stopping distances
- Reduced average speeds
- Greater variation in lane position
Which brings us to the idea of explicit policy and classes of service. The permit sign gives some indication of what other drivers can expect. It makes semi-explicit a policy: For people learning to drive, we are more tolerant of substandard driving service. Among other things, this means that we’ll give a greater berth for these cars and agree not to get too angry with them. For most policies, including this one, we should not only name the policy but also define what treatment or behavior that entails. This allows all participants in the system to know what is expected and how to tune their behavior accordingly. For a learning driver, she knows that she can drive more slowly than the speed limit, and it’s acceptable.
The same is true in knowledge-work systems. We make policies explicit and define them with classes of service, which are policies for selection and processing based on different customer expectations, relative value, risk or cost of delay.
Some examples in work might be:
- Production-defect fixes are completed 85% of the time within two days.
- Standard work is completed 85% of the time within 11 days.
- We pull UI fixed-date work into Ready when it is within 30 days of due date.
- High-risk due-date items are completed with 95% ontime performance.
- We always have exactly one tech-debt item in progress.
These classes of service then enable a conversation around the fitness of the delivery system. We ask (at a Service-Delivery Review), is this an acceptable service level? How much are you willing to pay to increase it? Are we possibly over-delivering, in which case we might allocate capacity in a different way?
Going back to driving, we have only two policies, one for licensed drivers and one for learners. But in reality, we experience more, just as I dealt with the “distracted driver,” who had her own unique set of service expectations. As in knowledge work, I might not have been dissatisfied with her performance if she had made explicit her policy — I’m distracted and may have a delayed reaction at stop lights. I would merely have expected it (and sought to change it at the next Dept. of Motor Vehicles service-delivery review, if such a thing existed!). As for those learners out there, here’s my proposal for an updated sign: