I recently wrote a post called 10 Things Executives Need To Do Differently (In Agile).  I also presented on this a couple of weeks ago at the Agile Australia conference.

Like many things on this list, the first of the 10 things is easy to say and very hard to do.  It’s a key mantra from Lean thinking – “Do Less”.

There is overhead, and therefore waste, in task switching.  And there is also more value in delivering something earlier, rather than progressing multiple things and having them all partially complete and taking longer to finish.

Here is a deliberately simplistic example of why it *pays* to do less

Let’s say you have 3 projects.  Each project takes 3 months effort to complete.  Each project delivers a value of $10,000 in month 1, increasing by $10,000 each month until it plateaus at $50,000 per month.

Scenario 1 is that all 3 projects are progressed in parallel, which is what usually happens, especially in larger organisations.  No value would be realised until the end of 9 months.  In reality it might also take longer than that, due to the inefficiency of task switching.

Scenario 2 is that you complete each of the projects in turn, concentrating fully on each project until it is finished.  After month 3, project 1 starts accumulating value.  After month 6, project 2 starts accumulating value.  After month 9, project 3 is also delivered, no later than in the previous scenario.

Using this simple example, cumulatively we have managed to achieve a lot more value in scenario 2 where each project is completed in turn.  We also have the benefit of faster speed to market for the first 2 projects, which could potentially give us the edge over our competitors and allow us to establish our market position first.

Now let’s look at the numbers for year 1:

  • Scenario 1 accumulates benefits of $180,000
  • Scenario 2 accumulates benefits of $610,000

That’s a massive difference by any standards!  Over 330% more value.

It’s such a simple concept.  And logically it’s undebatable really.  But we all seem to fall into the same common trap.  The trap that we need to show everyone progress, so we end up doing too much at once, even if it delivers less value overall for our organisation.

Maybe this explanation might help you to convince others, because I’m sure in larger organisations you can add a zero or two to the above numbers!

And imagine all the resourcing headaches and prioritisation issues that go away when the team is allowed to concentrate on each project in turn.  Bliss!

If there’s one thing an executive can do to help their teams the most, it’s provide them with the opportunity to focus.