Stop starting and start finishing

October 1, 2022
Today I installed the door on some furniture I built a year ago. Reminds me of many user stories.

If I told you I’ll do it, I’ll do it. You don’t need to keep reminding me every six months!

— Me, to my wife

Well today was the day. I finally did it.

I installed the door on the piece of IKEA furniture I built a year ago.

At least it was only in, erm… the living room, where everyone could see the incomplete work. 🤦

How often do our user stories look like my unfinished furniture?

We start on the task, with good intentions. Then something comes along. Or we hit a snag. Maybe we’re missing some external dependency. Or maybe we’re not sure what the user request actually means. Or maybe we do our part, then hand it off to some other team or department, who forgets about it, or doesn’t think it’s high enough priority.

Whatever the cause, these unfinished user stories are a huge drain. Not only do they represent wasted effort, because the work that’s gone into them isn’t benefiting anyone. They also pose an emotional drain on the team. In my experience, a mountain of unfinished work lends a sense of futility to the work we’re doing.

“It’ll probably just be added to the backlog of unfinished work,” one might think. “And if it ever does get used by customers, it may be weeks or months into the future, and I won’t even care any more.”

Stop starting, start finishing.

This is one place where Work-in-progress (WIP) limits can be a huge boon. By putting a cap on the incomplete work items, you can effectively force yourself (or your team) to focus on finishing, rather than starting new tasks.

I’ll be talking about other techniques to help overcome this sort of problem in the Lean CD Seminar, which starts on Monday! If you haven’t already signed up, don’t wait!

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