Two Ways of Achieving Nothing

ΣΠΕΥΔΕ ΒΡΑΔΕΩΣ (Make haste slowly)

Classical Greek adage, origin unknown

A U-curve graph showing capacity utilisation and lead times. At both low and high capacity utilisation, lead times are high. The lowest lead time is somewhere in between.
Capacity utilisation vs lead times.

There are two ways for a development team to get nothing done.

First, the team could just sit back and not do a thing.

Second, they could work at 100% capacity.

It sounds backwards, right? Most teams I’ve worked with believe that maximum productivity is achieved when everyone works flat out. In reality, they might as well do nothing.

When a team works near full capacity, work-in-progress piles up around handovers: be it for discussion, review, testing, or deployment. Tasks are mostly waiting to be picked up, rather than actively worked on. Progress slows to a crawl, demoralising the team.

Fixing this requires a radical change in perspective. Instead of keeping ourselves busy, we should focus on getting value into the hands of the end user as soon as possible. And sometimes, that involves waiting for a handover.

Remember, in teamwork, either work moves fast or people move fast — you can’t have both at the same time.

A good starting point is for two people to focus on the task at hand while the rest of the team remains idle, ready to assist when necessary.

Why should the rest of the team remain idle? Because their value is in their availability. Taking on side tasks not only makes them unavailable but also adds more work-in-progress, compounding delays.

Remember the U-curve when organising team work. Don’t go lazy, don’t go crazy. Find the sweet spot and as a bonus, team happiness.

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