The Complete Play: Chunk Work for Frequent Completes Early, Few Completes Late. admin March 2, 2019

The Complete Play: Chunk Work for Frequent Completes Early, Few Completes Late.

The Industrial Age playbook was designed to keep the team in redwork for as long as possible. An uninterrupted assembly line turning our product day after day after day. We still default to those plays that keep the team in motion, moving forward, making “progress.”

Any stoppage of the assembly line, any pause in redwork, meant idle time and wasted resources. An aid to maintaining those long production runs was to erect barriers to interruptions and continue the work, continue on to the next task. Even on a production line when a unit is completed, the work continues. The task is endlessly repeated. There is no sense of completion, ever, only continue.

Here’s what the Industrial Age play of Continue sounds like today.

In a service organization, a team member brings the boss a mock up for a new marketing pamphlet. After looking through it, the boss’s words are: “Good, here are some edits.” Continue.

At a retail company, the team works hard to develop a prototype feature for the website. After making it available to a small subset of customers, the boss asks, “When can I expect the next iteration?” Continue.

An employee takes the initiative to offer a client an innovative solution to a long-standing problem. The effort makes the client happy and earns the company significant goodwill. The response from management is deafening silence. Continue.

Instead of continue, now we want to Complete. The complete play is the moment we exit redwork and head back to bluework. There are 4 ways to practice the Complete Play:

  1. Chunk work for frequent completes early, few completes late.
  2. Celebrate with, not for.
  3. Focus on behavior not characteristics.
  4. Focus on Journey not Destination.


For this post we are dicussing the first mechanism of the complete play : Chunk work for frequent competes early, few completes late.

Early in a project or new product development when there is a wide array of options in decision making, the redwork- bluework rhythm should lean more toward bluework, emphasizing learning. This lean means many bluework interruptions to the redwork with a focus on growth, learning, and improvement. As the project continues, the decision space closes down. There are fewer options. Emphasis should
now shift toward doing— and the redwork periods can get longer and the bluework interruptions less frequent.

Imagine your work as a long set of stairs, not a moving walkway. The flat part of the stair is the tread. The tread is the moving forward part, the redwork part, the getting things done part. The vertical part of the stair is the riser. The riser is the improving part, the bluework part, the getting-better‑at‑getting-things-done part.  As the redwork- bluework rhythm shifts from bluework heavy to redwork heavy, the treads get longer and the vertical risers less frequent.

The stairway is not uniform. It is steep at the beginning and then begins to flatten out.  Following the end of the project, we then have a larger period of bluework, thinking about improving the project as a whole.

The leader has a role in tuning the redwork-bluework rhythm to appropriately emphasize bluework early, redwork later.

The cycle of completes for each project type will differ. For example, how many drafts will I complete when writing this blog post? How many times will I ask for feedback from my team members before the blog is complete? There’s not a magical number of how many times you complete a cycle for work to be it’s most effective, but as we become more skilled at our jobs we have a sense, a gut feeling, that 2 completes and reflect periods is not enough and 25 completes and reflect periods is overkill. This is where the tuning based your individual experience and knowledge comes in. The important thing to remember is to treat it like an experiment to help learning be at the forefront. Chunking the work for small completes allows us to learn more, quicker early on.

Learn more about how to chunk work.