Seven Deadly Wastes: Waiting

Going Faster: Issue 14

The Seven Wastes are an idea from lean manufacturing, and I’m exploring how they relate to software development. Last week was motion, and this week is waiting.

How long do you spend waiting for things? Well, that’s not actually important. A better question is: how long does your work spend waiting for things?

From the point you start work on a new item, to the point it is delivered to a customer, chances are it’s only actively worked on for around 15% of the time. That means that if it takes you ten days to deliver a new feature, it’s probably only been the focus of someone’s attention for a day-and-a-half.

But why does all that waiting around happen?

  • If you package your features up into larger releases then the ones finished first will have to wait for the ones finished later.
  • If you hand-over responsibility for the work between multiple teams or individuals then it will wait for them to become available.
  • If you start work before it really needs to be started then it will wait for stakeholders to be ready for it.
  • If you start work without understanding it then it will wait for you to clarify what you’re supposed to be doing.

All of those scenarios are probably familiar to you. They’re unbelievably common across the software industry. But they are wasteful practices.

While it’s very hard to eliminate waiting entirely, it’s relatively easy to start to reduce it. All you have to do is decide to work on one thing at a time.

That doesn’t mean work on one thing until you get blocked, and then switch to something else. All that will do is create inventory waste. Instead, it means pursuing a single item of work all the way to completion, ignoring all other distractions.

At first this will probably be hard, and you’ll need to be pragmatic about how you define “completion” (you’re not going to and eliminate large releases over night). You’ll spend a lot of time waiting. But because now you’re waiting along with the work, you’ll start to notice.

Gradually, this approach drives change in your team, in your process, and in your wider organisation, so that people are empowered to finish what they start without so much waste. It can be a long road, but even a tiny reduction in waiting waste can have a huge impact on your productivity.

Going Faster: Weekly ideas on speeding up your software team by Jez Halford, a software development consultant helping teams to deliver better software more quickly.

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