Saying “Yes” to the right commitments (and “No” to the wrong ones) is all about making reliable decisions on what work to take on next. These are paramount to managing a steady flow of work and meeting your customers’ expectations.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we’ll all turn to our loved ones and reminisce about the beautiful times that brought us together. I’ll always remember when my husband proposed to me. About 10 years ago, we went on a trip to Las Vegas for the biggest annual Microsoft conference. During our stay, he had this crazy idea to go to the Grand Canyon. Don’t get me wrong, I love all types of natural scenery, but I have a terrible fear of heights.

We took our bumblebee (if you’re European in the USA, you should never miss the opportunity to rent a roofless Camaro) and in a few hours, there we were – skywalkers, on a glass walkway suspended over a 2,000-foot drop.

With my knees shaking and one of my boyfriend’s knees bent, I said “Yes” from a place where the committed acrophobic in me wanted to scream, “No!”. The only thing I remember saying after the proposal was, “Oh my God, I’m still shaking. I’m not sure if it’s because of my fear of heights or what has just happened.” This was the most terrifyingly wonderful day of my life.

Saying “Yes” to the right commitments is essential for success, in both our personal and professional plans. And it shouldn’t be made lightly. You have to consider all the variables in the equation. Saying “Yes” to your customers means you are committed to meeting their expectations and delivering on time. It’s a promise that should come with high confidence that you will be keeping it. Let me ask you something, would you propose if you didn’t know whether you want to get married? (That’s definitely something we wouldn’t recommend).

Start Negotiating and Making Tough Decisions

You may think that by always saying “Yes”, you’re coming across as tolerant, kind or polite. Being nice and trying to make everyone happy is in our nature. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the right way to go.

Usually, business and client requests are constantly coming in and it’s imperative to say “Yes, but later” at times; respectfully but firmly. If your process is brimming with tasks, you ought to ask yourself whether your team is capable of handling new work at that point. That way, you set up realistic expectations about what your team can and can’t handle. Start negotiating and making some tough decisions – this is essential for reducing demand and usually means focusing on the few valuable things rather than catering to everyone’s demands. 

Putting the well-being of your team first and managing realistic goals is a crucial management approach. It protects teams from burnout, workflows from getting stuck and work from unnecessary delays.

Postponing a business or customer request can be challenging, but it is a step towards more efficient work prioritization. Being part of a fast and rapidly evolving market means companies need to identify the work that contributes the highest value to their business and the value it brings to their customers.

How to Say “Yes” to the Right Commitments

When a new request arrives, you need to use the feedback from your Kanban system to decide whether you can say “Yes”.

Evaluate Your Capacity

Look into your Kanban board and see how much work you’re currently doing. If you’re working at full capacity, considering the new request is not an Expedite, it would be better to wait until something has been delivered, before you start new work.

If you don’t evaluate your capacity and start the new request immediately, what you’re essentially doing is pushing work into the system. This leads to three main consequences:

  1. You cause multitasking and context switching, which ultimately reduces your performance.
  2. You suspend another work item in progress. You borrow from its time to make sure you reserve time for the new work item. This approach could go tremendously wrong if the work item you’re suspending has a higher priority than the one you’ve just started.
  3. You increase the amount of work in progress on your system. Based on Little’s Law, an increase in WIP will most probably lead to an increase in cycle times. Basically, you artificially delay everything else on average.

You need to make sure you align demand with capacity to preserve the predictability of your system and maintain a smooth flow of work to be able to deliver on time.

Plan What’s Next

You need to look into what you’ve already said “Yes” to and prioritize your new request accordingly. Having a prioritization system in place that helps you make informed decisions is crucial. You should strive to order your items based on what brings the most value to your business and your customers.

In our Sustainable Predictability program, we outline the foundation of a dynamic risk-based prioritization system to enable you to schedule your work items at the moment you add them to your backlog.

When a new request arrives, you need to make sure it takes its place in the pool of the rest of the work waiting to be started. Make sure you always take into consideration everything else you’ve already committed to initiating.

Manage Realistic Expectations

When you commit to something, you have to communicate how much time you’ll need to finish it and what’s the probability to keep that commitment. This is the key to managing realistic expectations.

And the best way to communicate your commitments is to use a forecast. The Cycle Time Histogram will enable you to produce a forecast using your past performance data.

In this diagram, the vertical dotted lines stretching across the graph are called percentile lines. We use percentiles to determine the probability of tasks being completed within a certain cycle time. Higher percentile lines indicate a higher likelihood of delivering your work on time.

The forecast which would be produced by this Cycle Time Histogram would look like this:

If you have historical data, use the data. It’s all about ensuring that you set realistic expectations and keep your commitments. Remember, when you say “Yes”, you commit to delivering results.

When you’re saying “Yes”, you need to make sure your commitment is solid. Evaluate your outstanding work, plan the new task accordingly and communicate how much time you will need to provide what your customers need. That’s the best strategic approach to preserving the predictability of your system and managing realistic expectations.

Your commitment must be credible and it must be made with high confidence that you’ll keep it. We need to build trusting and reliable relationships to keep our customers and our loved ones happy. With this sentiment in mind, Happy Valentine’s Day!

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