Staying nimble with Can-crushers

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I remember a time when a customer would make a feature request, and in the same week, we could derive a solution and deploy it. It’s one of the benefits of being scrappy in the early days of starting a company with a small number of customers.

As we have grown we have become less scrappy and introduced new processes, which, for a lot of our work, are essential for us to deliver consistent, high-quality software, as a team.

However, processes come at a cost: they can reduce autonomy and can create more work in themselves, potentially slowing us down. Not all work requires this level of diligence and we often found that simple tasks were getting clogged up in a backlog. Alarm bells start ringing when we spend more time talking about a task than it takes to actually do the task.

To solve this we came up with a really simple solution called Can-crushers. Here are the concepts:

‘Cans’ are any product development tasks that meet all of the following criteria:

  • Improves customer experience

  • Takes between 1h and 1w to complete

  • Well understood with no blockers

  • More likely to be individual work

They get stored on a backlog where anyone can suggest an addition for product approval.

‘Can-crushing week’ takes place every six weeks:

  • Anyone can work on any cans they want to

  • No meetings are allowed to be booked in

  • Team lunch on Wednesday

  • Cans must be deployed by EOD Thursday or it goes back on the list

  • Presentations and tidy-ups happen on Friday

We have been running can-crushing weeks for over a year now and the results have been amazing. This past week, we completed ten tasks between four of us:

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One of the reasons that I believe Can-crushing week is so effective is because people can work on what they want from the list. If someone has a particular interest or idea about how to crush a can, their motivation will be much higher, and they are more likely to crush it quickly and effectively.

Initially, we intentionally didn’t attempt to prioritise the order cans should be completed in, and just said: it doesn’t matter which cans get done, just choose the ones you most want to work on. However, after feedback from the early sessions, it was clear that knowing that one can is more important than another is helpful and motivating. So now we list them in rough priority order, but there is no pressure to pick from the top.

Here’s what Aurdius, a member of the team, had to say about Can-crushing week:

“It’s amazing that in the span of a week we can deliver lots of smaller tasks that greatly improve customer happiness that otherwise may not be a top priority.”

Being an independent company, we live by the motto “Small team, big impact”. Can-crushing week is one of our techniques for keeping this motto alive.