Art of maximizing the amount of work not done

“Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done–is essential”

The 10th principle of the Agile Manifesto is one of the most difficult one to understand. First of all the formulation is very cumbersome if you are not a native speaker. I needed to read the principle several times. The second problem is, that usually productivity is a misunderstood concept. Often we understand, that productivity and efficiency is very similar and deals with the amount of work being squeezed into a given frame of time.

The concept of doing less

The misunderstanding is, that people tend to work harder on every task, in order to be more productive. Therefore, many people do not understand the concept of actually doing less. In the end it is more important, what matters for you and what impact you have. This is what we looked into, when we recreated and discussed our values: “Stop working hard, Focus on working smart!”

Our goal is to create as much possible value with every task we currently work on. For example by writing this article, I hope, that readers find value and it might clear up some uncertainties in the agile manifesto. We need to focus on what is really important in the given moment and not on too many tasks. Therefore we need to simplify our current workload.

Simplicity in our work

Product Managers, Product Owners, Managers, Stakeholders – or sometimes also professionals – tend to organise their work along their current task lists and what is most important in this moment. Most of the time, people just try to get the most urgent impediments out of their way. We forget to just hold on for a moment, re-think, what really matters (Personal Agility is a framework that helps you understand what really matters). Then we can simplify our workload by also deciding, what we will NOT do in our current task list. This is simplicity: Understanding the work we decide not to do. Therefore we create more value as we actively decide much more on the work we will do. We not only believe in it more, we also have more focus on what we do.

Clean up your backlog

Steve Jobs once famously replied to the question about what he is most proud of he has done at Apple:

“I am as proud of the things we have not done at Apple as of the things we have done.”

Apple products are famous for their simplistic design. Being able to focus on what really matters starts  simple. I usually ask all Product responsible persons to go through their Backlog or Specs and look at what they really need. I assume, that if you are working with a backlog, that you have at least 200 stories, bugs, tickets, epics, spikes, etc. for each six month you work on the product. But what do you really need for the next 3 months? Everything else can get out of your backlog. At the moment, it might sound pretty radical. But if you decide to do it that way once in a while, it will become a habit. And you will see, how fast you will be able to prioritise the remnants in the backlog. And there is one more secret: Everything you deleted, that will turn out to be more important than you think it is now, will certainly come back – sooner as you would have wished.

Your work gets simpler if we decide on what we NOT do. It is not only because of less workload, but also because of more focus on what you currently do. Hence the 10th principle:

“Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done–is essential”


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