Here's a question: If you need to mail out 100 letters, is it faster to (a) take each letter in turn, sign it, fold it, stuff it in the envelop, seal the envelop, and put a stamp on it before moving to the next letter or (b) sign all 100 letters, then fold all 100 letters, then stuff all 100 envelopes, then seal all 100 envelopes, then stamp all 100 envelopes? Both get you to 100 letters ready to send, but which way gets you there faster? The majority of people would say (b) is faster -- that by focusing on doing a single task across your entire batch, before tooling up for the next task, you are more efficient. Well, the answer is (a). And it can easily be tested. With two equally skilled people doing the task, the person taking the (a) method will finish more quickly.
I got this from reading The Lean Start-up, which calls method (a) a 'small-batch' approach. Get your work done by taking a small batch (such as a single letter) all the way to completion before moving to the next batch. Not only is this faster to get the project done overall, but it also significantly reduces the risk in the project. For instance, if the seals on the envelopes are faulty and you need to get new envelopes, you find this out after 1 letter in method (a). Using method (b), you discover this when deep into the process and you will have to unstuff 100 faulty envelopes, setting you even further back on schedule.
The Lean Startup applies this lesson to all kinds of activities in building a product and a business. From my own experience, I know this to be true. It is dramatically better to have a couple of things 100% done than to have dozens of things 80% done. In my startups we had a saying: "If it's not 100% done, it is 100% not done", and we used to say that all the time to each other to remind ourselves that "almost done", "mostly done", "kinda done", "done except..." just don't matter to customers. It has to be 100% done. You need to think binary:
done / not done. Frankly I find that kind of binary thinking valuable in many things.
So I encourage everyone to focus on taking the 1 or 2 most important things in front of you and get them done, get them out to customers. Focus on the smallest possible version of what you are doing that is viable, that you can be proud of, get it out, and then iterate to add more capabilities. If you have several projects to do, get the first one done before moving on to the next, so you don't end up with piles of half-done stuff.
Small batches, completed.
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Philip Brittan is the General Partner of Crazy Peak LLC
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