So, in my first installment on The Last Responsible Moment, I discussed what it is and the thought behind it. To summarize, doing things before they bring you benefit robs you of the opportunity to reap benefit that comes from doing something else instead.
In the last installment I also wrote about why we often fall into the trap of preventing ourselves from obtaining this benefit. It boils down to fear — Our fear that if we wait, something will come up as well as others’ fear that we won’t deliver on time if we don’t do something right away. Both cause inflated priority to force the task to be done earlier.
Identifying the LRM
The Last Responsible Moment is a non-specific measure in an unpredictable environment. Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban, tweeted “You will never really know when the ‘last responsible moment’ is. It’s an ideal. You can, however, be aware that it’s coming up & be mindful.”
If you work in a very predictable environment in which your cycle time is not variable and your upcoming priorities rarely shift, then you can relatively easily identify the Last Responsible Moment to begin a task.
Let’s create an example:
- You have a backlog of work requests
- You have no explicit policies demaning first in, first out (FIFO)
- Average cycle time is 5 days
- There is an item in your backlog that has to be completed in 15 days to actualize the benefit of doing the task.
Obviously you have to begin that item no later than 10 days from now in order to complete the item by the 15 day deadline. Its simple math.
However, reality in development teams is that we our business environments are not predictable and priorities shift frequently with constant interruptions. Don’t forget vacation and sick time for specialists needed to complete the task. You can see why this concept might fly out the window pretty quickly. However, I maintain that there is still value in the concept of the last responsible moment… even in this environment.
In an unpredictable, unstable environment (one that you have variable cycle time, your requirements are rarely firm and your priorities change daily) you can’t use simple metrics to decide when to begin a task. You have to use judgement formed by metrics plus past experiences on similar tasks. Metrics still come into play because they form a baseline. You still have an average cycle time as well as a cycle time range. Generally, if this task is not entirely new terrain for your team, the time needed is likely to be within the existing cycle time range. You then look at the unknowns and evaluate the possible impact to your timeline. You then take into account the emotional climate without letting it rule completely. From all of this you come to the ideal time to start a sensitive task.
Sorry if you were expecting an easy answer. As I like to say, you can’t get precise certainty out of a big bucket of uncertainty. There’s no magic bullet or easy button (the one I bought from Staples doesn’t make things easier 🙁 ). However, you can use Kanban practices in place to minimize interruptions which will then make your cycle time a more reliable metric to use as a baseline for future estimates.
If you begin to organize the chaos around you you’ll find that you are delivering with more consistency. Once you begin to deliver with more consistency and stop missing deadlines you will build greater trust with your customers and yourselves. When this happens, gradually you and your customers may stop inflating priority unnecessarily. You can then start to do things when they really need to be done. Happy times!
If you take nothing else away from a discussion of The Last Responsible Moment, take this. Executing tasks without looking at the impact to the whole is a very 5 foot view of your impact to your ecosystem. You need to begin to consider things at a higher level – a system level. Look at the impact if you do execute the task and the impact if you don’t (if you do something else instead). If you begin to really think at a system level rather than a task level, your customer will be happier because you have understood the value your portfolio of work and processed those items in a way that provides the most value to your customer.