Should we turn around?

Imagine. You and I are avid surfers. We live in Sydney and on weekends we actively chase surf breaks both up and down the east coast. Saturday morning we read the surf report, there is big swell at Seven Mile Beach, south of Sydney. We load up the car and start the 3 hour road trip.

One and half hours in we receive a call from a friend already at Seven Mile Beach, the beach is closed due to poor conditions. But it’s not all bad news, if we turn around and head north to Newcastle, the sun is shining and clean surf breaks are guaranteed for the rest of the morning.

We have two options.

  1. Continue 90 minutes to Seven Mile Beach because we feel obliged, we have come half way, what a waste to not continue. But knowing our initial goal of catching some waves is no longer  possible.
  2. Cut our losses, turn around and make our way to our new destination, Newcastle, 4 hours north.

In our day to day at work

Change is a reality. We need to continually evaluate and re-prioritise. We put techniques and principles in place which allow us to embrace change.

However, when revisiting work inflight against our evolving goals, there is a common trend for teams to push ahead with partially completed work, irrespective if it no longer aligns to our goals. The sunk cost fallacy is evident; it feels wasteful not to complete the last 50%, when in fact it is quite the opposite. It is wasteful to continue to work on a product/features which we know are no longer needed.

Why continue to drive to Seven Mile Beach if the beach is closed?

It feels counter intuitive to halt partially complete work, but if done in a conscious and informed manner, I encourage teams to have the brave and open conversation about whether they are still aligned to their goals.

Anti-pattern: there is a difference between consciously thinking through change versus erratic picking up and putting down of work, context switching. Ensure to always understand the impact of change, options, pros/cons and action the change in a visible and aligned manner.

Let’s take the surf analogy one step further

Assume we were only 10 minutes from our destination when we received news of the beach being closed. With minimal further investment it could be argued that we should continue to our original destination (grab a coffee) and then pivot to our new destination of Newcastle.

Likewise, if we can confidently quantify we are 95% complete, a team may choose to invest the small remaining time to at least close off and shelf the work.

Anti-pattern: naturally teams will be emotionally attached to their partially complete work. When discussing the option to complete the small % of work still required, ensure to contain the remaining effort the least possible required. There is potential that effort blows out and what was considered an obvious choice to drive the last 10 minutes to Seven Mile Beach now results in your 2 hours beyond! In short, contain the time remaining.

Are your teams driving in the right direction? What techniques can you use to help make the decision of whether to turn around or keep going?

I originally published this post on LinkedIn.