I vividly recall my first Agility coach preaching to me, “Don’t get five projects halfway done; get one project completely done.”
“But that’s less than half the productivity!” I sputtered. “Yeah. Except that five half-way done projects deliver zero value to my customer.” This concept made no sense to me, and I think I know why. It’s because, as a child, I heard the history of Henry Ford building the Model-T, I practiced ‘dividing and conquering’ chores with my siblings, I watched the candy factory episode of I Love Lucy: I knew that the assembly line was the secret to productivity! I knew that I needed to get good at one piece of work, and let other people handle the rest. Teaming is a powerful tool, but too often we use it as an excuse to over-specialize. Imagine you work for a company that makes bicycles. Your job is to make the bike frames and give it to the next worker who then attaches the front wheel. All day long you make bike frames. You know very little about the rest of the bike making process, but darn it—you make the best bike frames in the world! You know everything there is to know about bike frames. What you don’t know is that at the end of each day, eight of your bike frames are still on the assembly line. Eight of your bike frames are in various states of completion because they didn’t get to the end of the line. And what’s wrong with that? Surely it’s not your problem. You did your job perfectly, and tomorrow there are eight fewer frames to be made! But what if you had stopped making bike frames thirty minutes before your shift ended? What if you had gone to the end of the assembly line to help install brakes? You wouldn’t have been as fast as the full time brake installer, but you would have been helpful. Instead of eight unfinished bikes, three or four of them might have been finished. That’s three or four bicycles more that we get to customers, three or four bicycles worth of profit in your pocket. This concept is key to effective teaming. It’s great to be good at your job, but it’s not an excuse to ignore the overall process. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the best bike frame maker in all the land. Your customer ordered 100 working bicycles as soon as possible! The amount of work done isn’t the point. The value delivered to your customer is the point.