Agile Software Development

Overproduction Is the Death of Productivity

In a post at his blog, John Yorke makes a hard condemnation of “overproduction” and its prevalence in the workplace. Overproduction is any work that does not produce business value. Gold-plating—the act of building additional product features beyond the required scope—is perhaps the most blatant sort of overproduction, but it is only one type. It also crops up in more insidious ways.

Speeding into a Brick Wall

Chiefly, the other place where overproduction occurs is in the actual day-to-day coding. How can that be? Well, one might say it is a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction: It used to be that waterfall required more planning than was practical or necessary, resulting in wasted work. Now it is a case where agile teams are not doing enough upfront planning, instead choosing to keep their noses to the grindstone, coding up another feature.

Yorke’s complaint is that, when teams choose to operate like this, they often are only working on features that they think will be useful later. But what will be useful later is not guaranteed; the only way to guarantee valuable work is being done is to work on the next feature that will make it into user hands now:

Writing extra features that are not used or rarely used extends the production time but brings little or no value[;] it also compounds all of the other wastes because by [its] nature production of something of little value needs to go through the system[,] thus exposing an unnecessary feature to all the other wastes.

When you next start work on something ask yourself: “Is this the next most valuable activity for our customer?” If you cannot confidently answer that question then maybe you need to spend more time planning so you can spend less time coding something that is not needed.

Coding instinctively sounds like the most productive thing you could possibly be doing with your time at work—but it is not, unless it has been informed by proper planning.

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