Eliminate Serial Killers

To make your business successful, eliminate serial killers from your staff.

I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill sociopaths you see on the evening news, I’m referring to something far more insidious, that may even be affecting your own job performance: Serial-itis.

All business tasks fall into two categories: serial tasks, and parallel tasks. You can’t start working on a serial task until its predecessor is complete, and you can’t start working on its successor until you finish the task at hand. You can work on a parallel task whenever you want, without interfering with other work–there are no dependencies.

Serial killers turn parallel tasks into serial tasks.

You may ask, “What’s so scary about serial killers? Whether the task is serial or parallel is irrelevant, as long as they get the job done.” What serial killers kill is any chance you have at rapid time-to-market, and in the post-Internet age, time-to-market is everything.

Think about it. Let’s say your new product requires accomplishing tasks A, B, C, and D. Worked on in parallel, you might have a time-to-market of X. Once the serial killer completes his grim work however, your product’s time to market might be 4X, or even more!

Thus, Windows 93 becomes Windows 95, Windows 97 becomes Windows 98, and so on.

The problem is that becoming a serial killer is so damned seductive. It’s easier to work on one task at a time, to take a mental break by waiting until Jones finishes task A before you start on task B.

The justifications sound so reasonable: “I don’t want to redo work that we’ve already done. We have to wait until everything is coordinated. Well do X when we do Y.” Unfortunately, they’re dead wrong.

To eliminate serial killers, you can’t simply tell your people to avoid serializing parallel tasks. One, they won’t know what you’re talking about, and two, it’s difficult for anybody–even you, the entrepreneur–to police themselves appropriately.

What you need to do is to challenge people’s assumptions whenever you see a serial task. Ask, “Do you really need to wait? Isn’t there a workaround?” Remind them that their time is a sunk cost. Be a bastard if you have to.

If you don’t, the serial killers will remain on the loose, and they’ll kill your products’ chances at success.

The angry capitalist will be on vacation for a week, with absolutely no Internet access, so check back on the 16th for the latest rants and raves (okay, the latest rants).

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