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Systemic Reduction of Cognitive Load

Updated: May 2

Reduction of cognitive load is critical!

And it is also important to understand that cognitive load has nothing to do with storing of information in our brains: those limits have not been found by the research, so we can assume that our inner hard drives are unlimited. Hence, point #1: cognitive load has nothing to do with knowing different things, we can keep acquiring new information.

But what is limited, in fact, is our immediate temporary memory (i.e., RAM) - we cannot stay productive by being focused on more than a handful of things, and we cannot be engaged simultaneously in several unrelated complex activities. E.g. did you notice when driving a car that when the traffic situation worsens, then for those few moments we stop paying attention to the news on the radio? Hence, point #2: cognitive load is essential for maintaining our productivity. 

Now, how to approach this in our workplace? How to design organizations that take that into account? The art and science of org design is not to mix primary and secondary concerns. 

What do we mean by that? Organizations are NOT created to reduce cognitive load. In fact, the best way to reduce it would be NOT to start a company and NOT to engage in product development. So, in fact, not delivering value is not an option. Hence, point #3: the primary concern of an organization is to discover and deliver customer value. 

Now, now we agree that the customer value is our primary concern, we must find ways how to do that in the most effective and productive manners by maintaining adequate levels of cognitive load. This work becomes our secondary concern in org design.

Customer value in most cases is a thing that spans different components, modules, microservices, applications ... it is a cross-cutting thing. Therefore, in order to solve customer problems and provide the best customer experience, we need to keep this wholistic view. Hence, point #4: we need to find ways to stay productive and reduce cognitive load without jeopardizing customer value and customer experience. 

So point #5: divide and conquer (i.e., split the product into parts and give away those parts to be owned by individual teams) is not always the best option. In fact, that must be our last resort.

Hence, this list below is ways to reduce cognitive load by maintaining a systemic view on the customer problems:

#1 Simplify, Automate and Standardize (Reduce Switching Costs)

#2 Apply Test-Driven Development

#3 Share Work and Mob (Avoid Individual Tickets)

#4 Use GenAI

#5 Minimize the Distance to Customers 

#6 Avoid Separating Discovery and Delivery (Continuous Discovery Habits)

#7 Embed Business Analysis into the Teams

#8 Minimize General Organizational Complexity

#9 Use Modeling Techniques to Grasp the Bigger Picture 

#10 Minimize WIP

#11 Develop Learning Skills by Making Learning a Habit

Explanations and details are to follow. Stay tuned.

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