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ComplianceESGJanuary 22, 2019

Where ‘bikeshedding’ in bowtie workshops usually occurs and how to avoid this

Dear reader, let us ask you this: Have you ever finished a workshop within the allocated time?

If your answer is yes, what are you still doing here? You have already mastered workshop time management. Congratulations, now go put that saved time to use elsewhere!

If your answer was no, it’s likely because the workshop team at one point or another spent a disproportionate amount of time on an issue that was probably disproportionately unimportant. In other words, rather than spending time on details of the nuclear power plant operations, time was spent on what color the bike shed should be. Or so the story goes by C. Northcote Parkinson’s, he went on to add that “…work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

And so, it goes for bowtie workshops too. In this short blog, the usual time-consumers (where ‘bikeshedding’ occurs) will be exposed, so it enables you to recognize it and focus on the more important parts of the workshop.

The usual ‘bikeshedding’ suspects

‘Bikeshedding’ in bowtie workshops usually occurs on the following topics:

  • Specific wording (things like ‘’what is the difference between fog and mist”, “how bad is bad weather?”, how dangerous are ‘flames’ as opposed to ‘fire’?)
  • Escalation factors (is this an activity or an escalation factor?),
  • “It’s valve nr 8 and not valve nr 9!”

2 Strategies to combat time-wasting topics

The first strategy is short-term and involves directly reacting to ‘bikeshedding’. The strategy is simple, whenever people become too detailed, simply agree with both sides and map both arguments on the diagram. Later on, when you feel you’ve ‘finished’ the workshop, you can go back and spend the remaining time and merge any of the duplicates.

The second strategy is more long-term and focuses on preventing yourself from getting into ‘bikeshedding’ discussions. Strangely enough, we barely see ‘bikeshedding’ happening on the hazard and top event level whereas these, to stick to the original metaphor, are the ‘nuclear power plant operations’. Get these right and you will make the rest of the workshop a lot easier.

Areas where you should be focusing

  • The hazard and the top event: these set up the scope of the rest of the workshop. When you get them right you can use them to bring back the discussion to a more conceptual level, rather than stay on the time-wasting detail level.
  • Alarm bells, e.g. failed barriers, by focusing on these you can ensure quality and save time by preventing yourself from following a ‘dead-end’.

In conclusion…

By spending more time on the hazard and top event, you will almost automatically avoid bikeshedding and thus spend less time on small details. Should you run into bikeshedding discussions anyway, you can overcome them by writing down all suggestions and later on, merging them. We hope these recommendations will help you on getting the most out of your future bowtie workshops. Good luck and let us know if it worked!

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