I’ve started so I’ll finish
Come Back & Finish What You Started.
I’ve started so I’ll finish. So goes the phrase that was made famous by Magnus Magnusson in the BBC TV Quiz show “Mastermind”.
Mastermind is a game show which Magnusson presented from 1972 to 1997, and it was well known for its rather challenging questions set in a really rather intimidating setting, and all presented with an air of seriousness. This catchphrase was something said whenever the time ran out while he was reading a question on the show.
“Finish What Ya Started”
~ Van Halen
Do you ever feel overwhelmed, too many things going on at the same time? Too many balls to juggle, too many plates spinning?
Some years ago I was working for a control systems manufacturing company where we made control systems for the UK electricity supply industry – mainly for coal and nuclear-fired power stations and nuclear-decommissioning projects – and we talked a lot about Work in Progress or WIP for short. This refers to the projects you have going on at the same time. It’s not what is in your queue waiting to be started – that’s the backlog. It’s what you are actively working on right now – work IN PROGRESS.
Now, some may think that being busy is a good thing, but in manufacturing, it’s a danger sign. You see in the contracting business the big problem is cash flow, or more precisely Working Capital and if there are too many projects going on at the same time WIP can burn through all the working capital of the business very quickly. This is largely due to timing issues, with needing to pay for materials and sub-contractors, and when the client pays you, it’s basically a cashflow problem.
For any team, any business, having too many things going on at the same time, having too much work in progress can damage your business too, because you end up plate spinning rather than getting any real work done.
A recent survey of technology projects in the United States by the Project Management Institute reveals some startling percentages. Close to half of the projects started were never finished, 30% were completed but took at least twice as long as expected, some took 5 times as long. Only 10% of the projects were finished on time.
~ Karl A. Smith.
So you can ask yourself the question “is my WIP too large”, or “does this plan make my WIP seem big?”
So why does the WIP get too large? Well, it’s the illusion of progress. Starting something gives an illusion of progress: “Have you started yet” asks your boss; “have you started yet” asks the client; “have you started yet” you ask your staff; because you think starting is important. But it’s not, it’s simply an illusion of progress. If you start something just to be able to tell the client “yes we’ve started”, you run the risk of having lots of jobs or projects all taking place at the same time and all of them are half done.
You won’t find many customers who are eager to pay for work when we tell them “it’s half done”; they want a deliverable, something they can see and measure.
So what’s the solution? Avoid the illusion of progress. Stop starting new things (before existing projects are finished), otherwise, your WIP will get too large.
“A project left unfinished is no better than a project never started”
~ Matt McWilliams
So what IS the One Question you can ask yourself that will transform your business? It’s a simple question, but behind it is a powerful paradigm, a powerful mindset shift in the way you look at your business and your life. The key is this: the only thing that is valuable is something that is finished.
When we finish a project (or key deliverable) – we can invoice the client and get paid, not before; when the car rolls off the production line it can be sold and driven away, not before; a half-finished qualification course doesn’t help you graduate, whereas a finished one can put letters after your name (and enable you to put up your prices).
The power is in the principle – don’t be thinking I have a contract that allows me to invoice 25% upfront so I do get paid before the project is finished, the power is in the principle and the principle is this: we only create VALUE when something is COMPLETE, not before.
When you fall for the illusion of progress, you keep starting new projects because it feels like you are doing something, but in reality all you are doing is growing your WIP, and when your WIP is large, it means you have lots of unfinished projects, and this means you have a lot of value you cannot realise yet.
So the one question that will enable you to turn all this around, the simple yet powerful question is not: “what will I do today”, it is not even “what have I started today”
The one question that changes everything is this: “What have I FINISHED today!”
By focusing on what we FINISH instead of what we start – we ensure we are prioritising activities that generate value for our clients and for our business. When we focus on what we FINISH we start to prioritise our day so that we get stuff completed rather than started.
You can take the brakes off your business with this simple question each morning: what will I FINISH today?
“Come back and finish what you started. And don’t leave me hanging on.”
~ Gladys Knight & The Pips
About Roger Fairhead
Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.
He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.
“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.
Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.