Stop Starting, Start Finishing

The phrase in the title is a well-known Agile phrase, but perhaps not well-enough known.

In one way, it is saying: minimize WIP. Work-in-process or work-in-progress. In another way, it is saying what my friend Mike Vizdos says: Focus. #Deliver.


But let me tell a story that gives a different meaning.

A few months ago, I was giving a class in Toronto, in the usual hotel I use there. There were three of us talking after the class. One of us (an attendee) was a smart woman from a fairly well-known company.

I forget exactly what we had been talking about, but in a kind of segue, she said: “You know, two nights ago, I got home and put my stuff down and started to think about whether I had gotten anything accomplished that day. I mean, I had worked hard that day. Many meetings. Many emails. Phones calls. I had been very, very busy all day, but had I accomplished anything? And I was sad, because my feeling was that I had not. And in fact, I often have that feeling.”


In my view, this is a terrible way to live. Well, terrible is maybe over-blown since people can and do live in much much worse ways, but it is not good. At all. Especially since we know ways to live much better. She could be living a better way now, I think.

One idea is: Stop starting, and start finishing.

A way to apply this is: Decide in your ‘large’ department (of 30 to 300 people) to prioritize the major sets of work. Dedicate people to one team (that means 100%), and have each team work on one and only one set of work until it is ‘complete.’ Meaning: Everything useful is delivered to the customers. (Useful means probably only the top 20% of the work, if you ask Pareto.) Then, once they have delivered it, give that team the next most important set of work.

People have satisfying lives when they see customers get the product and enjoy it, and they see that frequently.




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Posted in: Key problems, lean