Never work again!?

How to benefit from maximizing the amount of work not done.

Photo by Linda Segerfeldt on Unsplash

Values and principles are the basis for agility. If you look at the twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto, you come across the following principle:

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

This principle often causes astonishment: “Why should we maximize the un-done work? We want to produce more output and not less! We thought we would become faster using Scrum and create more output.”

What are the meaning and sense of the principle?

In addition to the obvious questions “What is simplicity?” and “Why to maximize the amount of work not done?” it is striking that one speaks of “art”. Why is the application of this principle an art?


Change processes are complex. The human being itself is also a highly complex system. To make complexity manageable, humans form structures. An agile transformation in a company is about replacing an existing order with a new order appropriate to the situation.

The former order may have been excellent and helpful, but now it is obsolete. Or maybe it has never been useful and always led to difficulties.

Agile coaches cannot know what a new order for an organization might look like. Their ideas and suggestions would probably only be half-heartedly accepted by the client or not at all: “This doesn’t work for us!”

But there is an opportunity to support and promote the self-organized emergence of new structures.

Here the space for simplicity opens up: understanding the processes leading to reorganization is highly complex, but the path to this goal is mostly self-organized. Implementing the methods for supporting self-organization can be easy. A board on which a team writes its tasks shows the processing status and contributes to more transparency and better communication. Using the lightweight Scrum framework can lead the team to align itself with a common goal every two weeks and achieve it together.

Maximize the amount of not-done work

Scott Ambler has contributed to making the principle of simplicity understandable with his practice “Just Barely Good Enough (JBGE)”.

The goal of product development is to deliver as much value as possible. To reach this goal, the product owner organizes the requirements and ensures that the features that contribute to a high value get implemented.

Additional functions often no longer deliver a higher value after a certain point in time. The product becomes more and more complex. The user may not even notice the additional functions at first because they are not needed. Still, in the worst case, he is so overwhelmed by the complexity that the product’s overall value decreases for him.

In practice, this is often the case. Just think of products like Microsoft® Excel: The program has hundreds of functions — in daily life, most users probably use at most 20% of them.

Here, the simplicity principle comes into play: the goal must be to create a “Just Barely Good Enough” product. Waste, i.e., an effort that flows into functionalities that provide no value, should be minimized. In other words: Maximize the amount of work not done!

But that does not mean that you do nothing at all or save on quality.

Good enough is something that

  • is effective,
  • in whose development the customers could actively participate,
  • has a good quality,
  • can be adapted/changed over time,
  • is delivered earlier than expected.

So you can avoid waste by putting effort only into functions, which deliver value. But there are many more areas where you can prevent waste and maximize not-done work.

Examples are:

  • Face-to-face communication instead of email helps to understand each other better and to clear up misunderstandings immediately.
  • Instead of investing time in creating reports for management, which then frequently raise questions and result in clarification meetings, interested parties can inform themselves directly about the products’ status in reviews and system demos.
  • By directly involving customers, there is no need to make assumptions about customer requirements, which may later turn out to be wrong after much work has gone into the description and implementation.

The principle of simplicity leads to minimizing output and maximizing results and impact.

An art

Why is the principle an art?

What Steve de Shazer said about the solution-oriented approach fits in well with the application of this principle:

“It’s simple, but not easy.”

The Duden defines art as “the ability, special skill, [acquired] skill in a certain field”.
The definition shows that the principle’s implementation is not easy, but requires constant practice and experience.

The best way to integrate this principle into your daily work is to ask yourself every time you make a decision: “Do I create value?”
The goal is to deliver high value.
Perceive this as real art, which comes from experience and constant practice.

I write on Self Improvement 🌱, Productivity 🎯, and Agile Product Development 🏄. My goal is to provide Inspiration.💡

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