No value until it’s done

One of the very first things I learned (experientially, I might add) about project management…

Is that all projects gain entropy as the project progresses.

And seemingly exponentially as you approach the launch date.

I’d start off each project with a bang… and a beautifully coordinated Gantt chart, with resource allocations and buy-in from cross-functional team members.

I mean… I was a friggin’ case study right out of the PMI book.

That is until the work started.

As the excitement and over-optimism fades, the small errors start to accumulate, and people get more and more annoyed seeing you show up at their desk on Monday afternoon asking for a status update, the gears start to grind…

And the timeline strrrreeeeetttttccccchhhhhheeeessssssss out.

Little did I know this wasn’t just a phenomenon limited to the eerily big-brother-like top-down world of automotive manufacturing.

But pretty much table stakes for anything you attempt to accomplish on a timeline.

This is as true in product development as it is in sales, as it is in client services, as it is in creative work.

And the biggest problem with it is that none of the value is realized until you hit the finish line.

Until then it’s just all motion and cost.


no value until done ship
Just ship it!

Brad “Take Control of Your Business” Farris, Principal at Anchor Advisors writes:

“The first thing to notice is that you only create value when you finish a project!

If you look around you and see a bunch of projects that are somewhere between 50% and 90% complete what you are looking at is an incredibly large pile of sunk costs that have produced no value to you or your clients…”

…Further, you have to track and report status on all those partially finished things; having them unfinished is taking time away from finishing them and getting on to something new and glorious.”

This mirrors some of the core principles that underlie the 8 Deadly Sins of Waste in manufacturing.

And it’s no wonder we all don’t have time…

Because the invisible second-order effects that come from “starting” too much can be pretty astounding when you add them up.

As Paul Akers of 2 Second Lean lays out, “Over-production” can set off a chain reaction of waste generation:

1. Over-production. The number one wase is over-production. It is the “mama muda,” present in all other wastes.
2. Transportation. We transport the over-produced goods.
3. Excess inventory. Then we put those over-produced goods in inventory.
4. Defects. Then we have defects and we have to rework those over-produced goods.
5. Over-processing. Then we have over-processing as we rework defects in the over-produced goods.
6. Wasted Motion. Then we have to handle those over-produced goods. So we have wasted motion.
7. Waiting Time. Then we have to force our customers to wait as we rework the defects in the over-produced goods.
8. Wasted Potential. Then we have wasted employee potential, because our team members are reworking waste instead of focusing on seeing waste, eliminating waste and letting value flow to the customer.”

And coincidentally these wastes are just as applicable to knowledge work as they are to physical labor.

The more you add to your todo list, the more your energy and focus gets diffused away from that small set of true value-producing activities you could be doing to move the ball forward.

A solution?

Brad suggests either quitting (not everything is all that important actually), getting help (a.k.a. just ask, you idiot), or using “all the distraction avoidance techniques you can” to get it done yourself.

Or as Neil Gaiman describes on this podcast:

“I’m absolutely allowed not to do anything. I’m allowed to sit at my desk. I’m allowed to stare out at the world. I’m allowed to do anything I like… as long as it isn’t anything.

Not allowed to do a crossword. Not allowed to read a book. Not allowed to phone a friend. Not allowed to… make a clay model of something.

All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing or write.

And what I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write… but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while…

…And it’s hard. As a writer, I’m more easily distractible…

… I think it’s a really solid rule for writers. It’s like yea, you don’t have to write. You have permission to not write. But you don’t have permission to do anything else.”

Absolutely nothing, or direct progress on your most important work.

Sounds good to me!

Off to do nothing…

Or just one important thing.

Either way, I’ll be moving the ball forward.

P.S. If you geek out on efficiency and waste reduction like I do, it’ll be worth your while to spend the 13 minutes required to watch this tour of FastCap, a marvel in the small business lean manufacturing world.

P.P.S. “By focusing on fewer things, for better clients, you can charge more for your services, simplify your staffing model, and hire more experienced people who take more responsibility — freeing you to work more on your business and take more time off!” If that sounds as good to you as it does to me, you should probably be on Brad’s email list.

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