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In a recent post, one of our Principals and Executive Coach, Larry Tribble, summarizes a post by Mike Cohn, one of the contributors to the invention of Scrum. In his post, titled “Getting Knowledge Work to Done,” Larry takes a slightly different approach and extends Cohn’s thinking on the importance of getting things to done.

On getting things to done

Larry expands on five important thoughts to why it is important to limit the amount of partly finished knowledge work tasks. They are:

    1. Finishing gives faster feedback. Inspection and adaptation is an important concept in agile thinking, and to be able to do that, you need to get your work done and in front of people as fast as possible.
    2. Finishing gives faster payback. Agile methodology is about creating customer value. You can’t deliver customer value until you have completed your work.
    3. Estimating progress on unfinished work is a hard problem. We call it the “90% problem.” Basically, programming tasks are always 90% done for 90% of the time. That is one reason many agile methodologies delineate work as either “done or not done,” a binary distinction that is much easier to calculate than percentage complete.
    4. Work should be “not started” or “done” with nothing in between. Not only is it easier to delineate, approaching our work this way allows us to focus on getting work to done and moving it out of a very “complex” unfinished state. Larry and Mike both explore this concept with focus on limiting the need to transition between multiple “undone” items to limit the time needed to transition between tasks.
    5. The psychology of starting. Larry adds an extra thought to Mike’s post in that it is important to look at the value of transitioning to a “not started or done” mindset. By adopting this approach, it helps to push decision makers into better prioritizing of each task and helps teams swarm on unfinished tasks to move items to done quicker.

Both Larry and Mike make great points in the importance of moving knowledge work to done. But, if you don’t already have that mindset, it can be difficult to adopt it. What steps do you take to cut the amount of undone work in your backlog and adopt a philosophy of “finishing what you start before you start the next thing?” Do you have thoughts on how to make this transformation? If so, let us know. Hopefully we will hear something from Larry or Mike soon to give their insight on what it takes to “get knowledge work to done.”

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