Nearly done is not done.

One of the first things I learned in Scrum is the importance of a task being “Done”. In short, until something is done, you don’t get the value.

In a team, this can mean limiting the amount of work in progress at a given time. Kanban uses work in progress limits because it helps teams get things done.

The main idea behind WIP limits can be explained by this simple phrase: Stop starting, start finishing. WIP limits encourage us to finish work that’s already in process before introducing more work into the system. The more work teams try to juggle at once, the harder it is for them to take work to the finish line.

Why we need WIP limits”, PlanView

The lure of a new task

I’ve seen it a lot with tech teams. A developer considers their task as code complete. They submit it for review – and almost immediately, they grab the next item from the backlog.

This might be because idle time is seen as a negative thing. However, having slack in the team is important. There are plenty of things a developer can do when they submit their code for review.

One is checking if anything needs their review. Or if anything else on the Kanban board could be moved along.

Another is waiting a little while for reviews on their work. While I don’t think people should sit for days waiting for comments – they may need to give the team a gentle nudge – immediately jumping to a new task isn’t a great thing to do.

As soon as the first task receives feedback – if further work is needed – the person now has 2 tasks in progress.

Keeping things focused

Sometimes, the mindset is that if a team has 5 or 6 developers, they can work on 5 or 6 totally distinct tasks.

Instead of having as many balls in the air as you have people, it’s better to get the team to focus on a smaller number of tasks and see them through to completion.

As product managers, we should be setting goals for each cycle of work. Ideally this should be an overarching theme that all work links back to, and not a “grab bag” of 10 totally different things.

Are you always busy?

Being too busy should not be seen as a trophy — it can mean you’re overloaded and stressed out.

If a task is on your to-do list for too long, and more tasks are being added to your list all the time, you can quickly feel overburdened.

To avoid this, try to limit the number of things you have in progress at any one time. You can do this by focusing on getting things done.

It can be very rewarding to finish a task. It doesn’t mean you can’t add to something in future — it just means you’re marking the task as complete. Make sure each task has a clear goal, so you know what “done” looks like.

By focusing on getting things done, you can start working through your backlog, stop feeling so busy, and finish more things!

Further reading:

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash