“We need to get the right people together and just get shit done.” If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that in a management meeting…
The trouble with this sentiment is that it is a reductive simplification of work, especially where work contains a high degree of variability, unknowns and emergent risk. So instead of being an inspirational rallying cry for willing people, the call to “get shit done” is really a siren call from desperate management.
When a group of people come together to do some work, “get shit done” does not contain any meaningful guidelines for how they should align, organize, sequence, measure progress, govern or do any of the other things they quickly need to do.
This is especially true if the team is forming for the first time, and doubly so if team members come from different functional disciplines. Without some thoughtful arrangement, “get shit done” gives rise to friction and brittle structures that ultimately hinder progress.
The most helpful – and most often overlooked – things a new team can be given are guidelines and expectations about how to operate. For forming, and for the long-term health of a team, it is very helpful to separate out a team’s performance from its progress on business outcomes.
I have found this to be a difficult (read: heretical) concept for many management teams to accept. The prevailing ethos is that we will know how the team is performing because we will see shit getting done – just concentrate on the outcomes.
It’s even more difficult if team members are not used to regularly pausing to inspect how they work. Continuous improvement takes a back seat to overt progress, in turn causing technical and process debt, and compromises in quality. Fully utilizing people takes precedence over improved throughput. The “get shit done” siren calls us inexorably onto the rocks.
Frameworks such as Lean, Kanban and Scrum can help as a starting point as they provide simple rituals, inspection points and anchors. Measurements of flow with almost zero overhead are readily available, such as work-in-progress, lead/cycle time and throughput, as are tools like Kanban boards, value stream maps, cumulative flow diagrams and burn-up charts.
These are applicable to all types of work and together they can do double duty, both illuminating progress against the goals, and clearly showing opportunities for team improvement. Ultimately they open the door to systems thinking, the key to sustainable increased performance. Long-term ability to predictably deliver work at a high rate – smooth flow – is then a goal that you can take aim at with data and concrete improvement initiatives.
So, don’t be fooled. “Get shit done” is really a statement of hope over planning. If you are asked to do it, thoughtfully resist. If you don’t, it should be no surprise if what you get done… is shit.
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