One of the most effective strategies that the failureship deploy to justify failure is the concept of UNLIMITED work in progress. The failureship justify Unlimited Work in Progress by stating that they are “making efficient use of resources”, “getting a lot done” or “sweating the asset”. They know that the ultimate crime is letting anyone sit idle and “slack off” at less than 125% utilisation.
UNLIMITED work in progress is a most effective strategy for avoiding focus and justifying failure.
Most agile/lean/buzzword/digital transformations require the organisation to deliver value with high quality, and with lower lead time. These are challenging goals, requiring genuine change with focused commitment from the leadership. If the leadership focus on these goals, it requires them to understand their context and make changes that will impact their organisation. The problem with these goals is that are they are hard to achieve and it obvious whether the organisations has improved or not. To prevent this level of transparency, the failureship deploy the “Unlimited Work in Progress” strategy. Instead of three meaningful goals, the failureship will create dozens of goals for the organisation. By creating a large number of goals, teams can pick those goals that they find easiest to achieve and ignore those that actually improve things but are hard to do. Ideally, these goals should be cherry picked from those espoused by industry experts.
At one organisation we developed a test for the maturity of transformation programmes. We suggested the three goals (More value, Lower Lead Time, Quality). An additional twenty eight goals were added giving a total of thirty one goals. The transformation programmes ALL scored twenty eight out of thirty. Guess which three goals none of them achieved.
The next organisation had a set of about two dozen random “industry” goals. I suggested to the person responsible for the goals if we could just focus on just two goals ( “How much of the investment is invested against a metric”, “How much of the investment has a lead time calculated” ). Instead, they told the executives that their organisation needed to “focus” on the two dozen goals. Leadership is about providing focus for an organisation so that it can succeed. Overloading an organisation provides it an excuse for failure, and also demonstrates that the failureship have done a good job by being a “strong and demanding leader”. Of course, when the goals are reviewed, none of the executives will have made any valuable progress but they will have the excuse that they had too much to do.
Unlimited Work In Progress is a fantastic strategy to avoid blame for poor decision making. The failureship instruct a team to do ten things, even though they only have the capacity to do two things. The team obviously fail to achieve the ten things but even worse, they fail to achieve two things because they do a little bit of all ten. The failureship then promote the team leader for their failure to deliver anything which would have revealed their poor decision making if they delivered the wrong thing. I worked on a project with a consultancy company called “Negligensure” (Its not an accident). The business product owners did a great job of providing thirty slices of value (epics) and asked the consultancy provided teams to deliver. The “Negligensure” lead ignored the product owner and decided to create a proof of concept instead, effectively starting all thirty epics at once. This allowed them to hide the fact that the teams did not have the skills to deliver a single epic. It also meant that the project had no effective way of tracking progress given the huge amount of work in progress, none of which made it into usage until months after the deadline. The failureship were delighted as they genuinely had no idea what was going on and could not be blamed. I think we all know the result, the failureship rewarded the consulting team with a bigger follow up contract. Big name consultants are world class experts at deploying “unlimited work in progress” to hide their lack of ability.
Nothing frustrates the failureship than limiting work in progress. Limited WIP forces them to focus, revealing problems that should be solved, and revealing the work that they think is most important. Limiting work in progress forces the failureship to acknowledge that which is most important to the organisation and makes it hard for them to focus on things that are best for their own personal career progression. When encountering an organisation limiting work in progress, members of the failureship should declare “slackers!” And double, quadruple or 10x the work being done.
This Christmas, give your failureship the gift of “Unlimited Work in Progress”, the comfort blanket that prevents focus and provides the perfect excuse for their failure.