Applying Cost of Delay Theory

There may not be an industry that has more sensitivity to delay than the airline industry. Living in the Twin Cities area, Delta Air Lines is the most commonly flown airline and is among the largest in the world. According to Cirium, a leading data provider of flight status data, in November 2019 Delta Air Lines was ranked #3 globally with an on-time percentage of 88%, with an average delay of 58 minutes, which was the most among the top ten airlines. Delays cost the industry billions each year, according to statistics generated by Airlines for America.

It makes sense that airlines spend millions every year to minimize delays and the impact of those delays. Every percentage point of improvement translates to real profit for these businesses.

Cost of delay is a big factor in the success or failure of an organization’s Agile transformation. In my recent training, Dr. Jeff Sutherland asserted that reducing the cost of delay should be THE major focus of organizations seeking to transform. The slide below shows a number of aspects of how organizations and Scrum teams can reduce impact of delay. Reducing decision latency from 5 hours to less than 1 hour triples the probability of success of the project.

Slide on the importance of reducing decision latency. Scrum@Scale and Scrum Inc.

So what does the cost of delay have to do with Agile Best Self? Think about the amount of time spent wrestling with your Inner Critic. That time is a form of drama, which distracts us from having better thoughts, delaying better action leading to improved outcomes. To create a best self environment of motivation, trust and support for yourself and others, listen to the Inner Critic. Yes, that is right, listen the Inner Critic. The Inner Critic thrives on autopilot and old scripts that run in the background. The faster you can identify the script, the faster you can switch to an Inner Advocate mindset of compassion, trust and support. Bingo: paying attention to the Inner Critic can reduce cost of delay.

Agile Best Self Principle #5: Create a best self environment of motivation, trust, and support for yourself and others.

Reducing the time it takes to make that switch works the same way as reducing decision latency in a Scrum team or an organization. Face it, who really can afford to lose a whole day by letting the Inner Critic run the dialogue? The risk: choosing to listen to the Inner Critic can render yourself utterly useless. In my experience the key is detecting this is happening. Mindfulness is the cornerstone skill that matters. The good news: this is a completely learnable skill – it can be trained. Getting started with a mindfulness practice is remarkably simple. There are many meditation apps available — we personally recommend Headspace and 10% Happier. We will share more about mindfulness in a future post.

Back in early December 2019, I was driving to work after a nice morning workout at the gym. I was feeling really good, the sun was shining, and I was ready to get after my day. Before starting my vehicle, I made the mistake of looking at my email on my phone. Why? I knew there was a big announcement my boss, myself, and my colleagues were working on together. I was more than a little curious to see the latest draft and give feedback. After reading the communication, I started driving to the office. It didn’t take long for the Inner Critic to start in, turned up to eleven.

Why isn’t there any discussion in this announcement of what my team is doing to help the lab be successful? Everyone else is being talked about. Are you kidding me, boss?

We must not be important. Everyone is going to know it. We’re going to be irrelevant. DEFCON 1. The worst place to be. The worst.

I might as well pack up my office. It’s over.

Absolutely silly line of reasoning, when I look back, I know. We’ve all been there. I will go there again. This time, happily, the story’s not over.

After just a few seconds, something clicked. My Inner Advocate overwhelmed my Inner Critic. My mind had detected what was happening. Now I was in position to change the inner narrative right now. The mindfulness work payed off! Now, the challenge was to figure out how to contribute to creating this communication with authenticity and without adding drama to the equation. I aligned with my personal philosophy, and applied Agile Best Self Principle 2 by approaching with curiosity. My brain went to work. Here’s how the dialogue changed:

How can I help my team make a great announcement by adding the right language that highlights my team’s value?

When I got to the office fifteen minutes later, I had crafted the words, shared with my colleagues, then moved on with my day. Not only did I avoid ruining my day, but it caused a lift in my energy level. I went on to get great focus to finish a major deliverable a whole day early. The difference in value I delivered that day versus what I likely would have delivered (had I let the Inner Critic have the internal bullhorn) was remarkable. Previous versions of Brian would have included sitting mindlessly in front of the computer, replaying the Inner Critic’s soundtrack on auto-play and essentially being useless for most, if not all of the day.

I also felt the satisfaction of knowing that: a) I contributed positively to the communication the team ultimately created; and b) advocated for myself and my team in a way that was authentic, and drama-free. This is like what happens to a team or organization that struggles making a decision — the cost of delay.

I think about how many times my Inner Critic has run some of my days, and the missed opportunity for creating value for others. I cringe a little, but then realize that at least I am now taking action to be my Best Self, and the Trickster will not get a hold of many more days going forward.

This insight helped me that day, and can be repeated, with mindfulness as the skill that makes that happen. It creates the ability to have more Agile Best Self Principle #1 days, as Michaele calls them, “Airplane Moments.”

We have only so many days on Earth to create a better world, so getting back as many more days as I can from the robo-grip of the sneaky Inner Critic (who is often a real jerk) is something I strive to do.

Copyright © 2020 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson

Published by Brian Hackerson

My personal philosophy is to be a light.

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