Every weekday I make two identical packed-lunches for my two youngest children. Each one contains a sandwich, a cereal bar of some sort, some cheese, a yoghurt, a banana, a satsuma (or perhaps some grapes) and sometimes even a bag of crisps. The lunches are the same, but their lunchboxes are different shapes and sizes.
I tend to make the sandwiches first. Then I wrap them. Then I pack them into the lunchboxes, before packing everything around them. First the bananas, then the satsumas, then the smaller things… two-at-a-time until I’m all done.
While doing this the other day I cast my mind back to a passage in Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup“, in which he argues that small batch sizes are more efficient. Ries gives the example of putting many letters into many envelopes. People tend to do them in large batches – first the folding, then the envelope stuffing, then sticking down the envelopes, addressing them and finally affixing the postage stamp. He claimed that experiments have shown it is much faster, although counter-intuitive, to do the entire process one envelope at a time. One argument he gave was that it allowed you to make changes early on if you discover that – for example – the letters don’t fit into the envelopes.
So what does this mean for my kids’ lunchboxes? What is a “batch”? Following Ries’ example I guess I should make each lunchbox in its entirety as one logical component. But then, I’ve been involved in many debates about what really constitutes a “batch”. Rather than each entire lunch being a “batch”, could the individual “item types” I put into the lunchbox actually be the “batches”. Why does it matter? I know how to make the lunches, and everything tends to go quite well.
Then it dawned upon me. It really doesn’t matter. Not in this case, anyway. In Ries’ example he refers to the letters not fitting into the envelopes, and making changes. There. That’s it! It’s about feedback! I’ve made the same lunches loads of times. I think that now the greater benefit comes from not context-switching away from making the sandwiches to do something else. Before, when I was getting used to the lunchboxes being different sizes and shapes, it was probably more of an issue.
It doesn’t matter what you consider to be a “batch”, as long as the thing you’re working on allows you to receive useful feedback regularly. Don’t focus simply upon reducing any old “batch size” you come across in your work. Instead, focus upon identifying where the feedback is delivered in your work. That’s the batches you should care about. Only then can you modify your process to ensure that you minimise the feedback cycle in the most effective way.