How far have we come?

· January 30, 2015

A few days back I said something to my client that apparently many people on twitter found interesting.

My client, the hospital that I’ve written about many times before, has a big project ahead. We are going to be accredited for quality in all our processes. So… there’s a lot of documentation, implementation and training to be done.

Nobody really knows how much. We think, for hearing other projects, that it’s about 6 months and made that our goal. But we haven’t got a clue how much work it is left for us.

The work is divided into 4 areas that we’ve formed teams around. Each of this area has a number of targets that they need to consider and help the hospital to meet.

So I asked them:

How far have we come?

The answer was a typical answer: “Well… we’ve created these plans, the structure of the teams, and a time schedule.”

Me: “Ok great! But how far have we come?”

Them [now looking very confused]: “… so … the teams have met one time and …”

Me: “No, you don’t understand. How much work is left? The plans are nice and everything but it doesn’t tell us anything about how much work we have done. Or how much is left. Or how long time it will take. It’s just plans.”

For the record; I think plans (and yes, even estimates) can be great for analyzing the work and getting structure, but they are prediction of the future. That’s not certain. If we, with certainty could predict the future, there’s much better ways to utilize that ability than to run a hospital.

This question was something that no one, including me, could answer. The current plan was just to work according to the Gannt chart and “make sure that we meet the deadlines”.

But that’s not reasonable, because we don’t have any clue on how long the work takes. In fact right now we only know that we have “a pile of work” to do. And a date when we have said that it’s done. No correlation between the two.

What would be the easiest way to track progress here? This is what we came up with, it’s good enough for now. Hopefully we come up with something even better later.

What is done?

First we decided on a common definition of done. This turned out to be easier that first expected in this case because there’s checklists that needs to be met before the accreditation review (like an audit) will be held.

Ok - definition of done is: “Ready for accreditation review, according to the checklist”.

What is work?

Second question was to try to find what we are working with. There was a number of options here but we decided to track progress towards the targets. Remember that the four teams had a number of targets to meet. The number and size of targets varied a lot, but that doesn’t matter much. We simply report the progress towards the total number of target per team. Like this:

  • Team 1: 2/17 targets Done
  • Team 2: 1/6 targets Done
  • Team 3: 8/32 targets Done
  • Team 4: 23/120 targets Done

If I know myself I will probably visualize this information, for example in a circle diagram.

HA! Look. I couldn’t resist.

Done, only done and nothing but the done

We also decided, although I’m ready to explain this again, that Done means that there’s no more work to do with that target. I’m not interested to hear on how many things we have started or going on. Or that we are 80% done with 90% of the targets.

This is just binary, a flip-switch. It’s Done or Not Done. Once it’s Done we are not working with it anymore, because that is what Done means. If we are working with it is, per definition, Not Done.

Tick, tock, tick, tock

I did one thing more; on our white board I drew a number of squares. This represented weeks. Our goals is namely “sacred” (literately). At a certain date Ramadan kicks in. Since Indonesia is a Muslim country this basically means that the country shuts down.

This 6 months from the start of the year. We are now in week 5. So I drew a table of 5 x 5 cells. Filled the first 5 and then said.

Time waits for no one. There's one week less until Ramadan next week, if we work or not.

Just do it! (c)

We decided to start to work on something small and useful in each of the teams. One, two or three targets, whatever you want. Everyday we will update the two charts (time when a week passes by, and the number of finished targets as we finish them.

Now comes the most important thing; why do we do this? It’s not so that I can scream at people to work faster. It’s not to make people feel bad.

No this is about transparency; now we know where we are. And once we start to complete targets we can start to say something about the likelihood of us finish this before Ramadan.

For example; next week maybe we will finish one item. So that’s 1/175 finished in 6 weeks. 174 * 6 weeks = 1044 weeks left (20 years).

No, that can’t be right?! And of course not, it contains all of the setting up and waiting time of the first 5 weeks. But that’s the data we have so far. The only “true fact” about how long this “pile of work” will take us.

Let’s gather some more data. After a couple of weeks more we have finished 35 items. Let’s say in week 10. 4 weeks for 34 items. 8,5 items per week. How many weeks left? 14… 14 x 8,5 = 119. +34 items already completed. At our deadline, if the work flows like this it will be: 119 + 34 = 153. We will not make it.

Now we can act on this information. Maybe add more people, do less for each target (if possible) or simply reschedule to after Ramadan. The important point is that we can do that in week 10 instead of cheating ourselves (90% of the targets are 50-70% done) right up to the deadline.

Or if it went really well, we could call and order a accreditation review for a certain week once we feel confident that we will reach it.


By simply being transparent about the true data about our progress we give ourselves options on how we can act. Plans are great but they tell us nothing about how this will go down. It’s just what we think will happen.

What you think will happen versus What happens - which would you rather bet your money on.

Twitter, Facebook