How to finish what we started?

I see too many people overwhelmed, who can’t deliver and finish their tasks, not to take the opportunity to come back to the subject. Slicing your work to finish and deliver what your customer needs quickly is an Art available to all.

Doing half of something is, essentially, doing nothing.

Jeff Sutherland (born in 1941, one of the creator of Scrum)

I shared this quote with an IT professional, to invite him to reflect on his way of working. He obviously replied, like many others, that it did not apply in his case.

Slicing work is the basis of Agile and Lean concepts Once you understand it, you will know how to do twice the work in half the time (title of Jeff Sutherland’s book from which the quote is taken).

To make this article easier to understand, I will take a simple example. You offered to organize a loved one’s birthday party. This involves preparing the meal for the 40 guests, as well as the room where the meal will take place. You can get started by just doing things. But taking a few moments to think and cut out the tasks will make you much more efficient and help you finish on time!

This simple example involves only one person. But the management of a construction site of 150 apartments can be done in the same way… all the workers come to the site, and work, on what they can.

The benefits of slicing your work

Delegate serenely

In a world where the lack of competent and available resources is glaring, dividing one’s work into tasks is key to being able to get help. If you have your project in mind, how can you clearly delegate all or part of it? Your employee must have a clear idea of the expected result, deadlines, quality,…

In my example, you can have everything in mind and get organized as you go. However, by dividing your work into two subprojects with their tasks, you will be able to delegate certain things more easily.

If you start doing a little bit of everything: going to buy decorations and food, you run the risk that no one can contribute effectively. Since your plan is only in your head, no one knows what the 10 meters of ribbon is for.

In addition, taking the time to reflect, slice tasks and organize the project helps to structure your thinking. You will be able to identify inconsistencies or prerequisites in your project.

Confirm/reduce scope

Once your tasks are identified, it is easier for the customer to understand the result. He can then confirm that you are on the right track, or on the contrary offer you corrections. You make sure to deliver the right level of quality.

I thought I would have only one dessert, however, I would like one more salad with the dish. Finally, I prefer to have candles and a simple icing, rather than the pattern you propose to make.

By clarifying your steps, you help the customer understand what you are going to do and how. If you know that you won’t have time to do everything, it’s easier to negotiate on a clear basis.

Finish so you can reap the benefits

There is no longer any need to demonstrate this, but scattering reduces productivity. The more things you do at the same time, the less they advance. And as long as the tasks are not finished, they do not generate value. This is the meaning of Jeff Sutherland’s quote.

If you are late and have half decorated the room, cut the vegetables, kneaded the cake dough and seasoned the chicken, your guests will have nothing to eat. All activities are 50% (maybe 75%) but the value is 0, because nothing can be consumed or used.

Get feedback from the customer to adjust

Our brains are full of concepts and ideas that words can’t explain. We each have a contextual baggage, which implies things that are different from others. The same word can have a different meaning for different individuals, depending on their culture, their region of origin, but also their training and experience. By quickly presenting a finished product to your customer, they can give you feedback and guide you to make the next deliveries a success. Rapid feedback loops reduce costs by limiting the volume of work to be resumed.

By presenting a first salad to your customer, he will be able to confirm if it suits him or the adjustments you should make to it.

Adjusting to changing needs

Beyond communication problems, which we can solve with frequent feedback, the environment is changing. Our client’s needs change, adjust to new concerns. By breaking down the project into tasks and delivering value at each step, the customer can test the product or service, but above all can benefit from a functional, useful deliverable, and then move on.

For example, once you’ve finished the cake, if the weather is cold and rainy, you could cook the vegetables in soup rather than salad. It is more difficult to change a project in the middle of its execution than when it starts.

Finish just in time

Finally, to loop back with Lean Manufacturing, task cutting facilitates just-in-time delivery. Assuming that projects always deliver late, your client will always prefer a full portion of the project delivered on time rather than the entire project delivered late.

It’s obvious in my example, if you deliver all the meal 2 hours after the end of the party, it’s useless. On the other hand, you can deliver some of the dishes at the beginning of the party, and maybe one or two others during the party. The last three will be cancelled, as the deadline makes them useless.

How to properly slice your work?

We must succeed in reviewing our expectations and defining the notion of “good enough”. You have to be able to accept that it is better to have a project that has completely delivered certain components, than nothing at all on all the components. Finishing “complete” parts is more important than starting everything without finishing anything.

In my example, for the party to be successful, I want to deliver everything, but if I only make a salad and dessert, my guests will have something to eat. They will be much more satisfied than if they have nothing, because I started everything.

In any project you start, you have to question yourself about this “good enough” or first step. What will bring the most value to your customer? In some cases it can be an exploration phase on all subjects. In other cases, exploration, analysis and recommendations in a single topic bring the most value.

One technique is to ask yourself what is the smallest thing you could finish that can be used. It is obvious that ideally, everything is needed, but if we stop the project at the end of the week, what could be finished and delivered first? And while incomplete, could still bring value.

To return to the example of the construction site, the first step is to know the different steps and interventions required. Then, if you focus on one building at a time, you’ll be able to offer homes faster. You reduce the cycle time, by choosing the smallest possible entity.