How To Only Do Work That Matters


Thursday, 9.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get – Warren Buffett

I was reminded today that most of what we do during the working day is entirely pointless.

For example, why do you check your emails, take phone calls, attend meetings create reports, update trackers, enter data into systems or sit in traffic waiting to get somewhere?

Presumably all this activity is in aid of something – but what?

If you ask most people what they do you’ll probably get some kind of role description.

I’m an engineer, a doctor, I work in accounts payable.

But what does that actually mean in terms of value?

I design bridges for places that need a bridge and don’t have one, I treat sick people, I make sure our suppliers get paid when they send us stuff.

We all have customers for our work, either paying customers who get something from us in exchange for money or internal customers who get what we do to help them what they do for their customer.

Some of that work is value work, but what’s that?

One way to think of value work is that it’s what customer wants when that customer wants it.

So, for something like a broken boiler – the customer wants a working boiler and because it’s the middle of winter they want it fixed now.

Value work, in that situation, is all about fixing the boiler – getting an engineer and parts to the situation where they can be used to fix the broken machine.

Anything that does not directly contribute to a fixed machine – all the paperwork, incidentals, reporting, timekeeping – all that is simple wasted effort.

In situations like that value work is relatively easy to design – the problem is changing the system so you don’t need to do any of the other rubbish.

But the core task really is to work out what a customer needs – because that is what they express as a want and get the expertise in time to get it sorted.

Sometimes, perhaps often, wants and needs get confused.

Sometimes a customer says they want an expensive computer system when what they need is to spend a little more time talking to the customer so they can fix the problem the first time.

But it’s easier to get all excited about buying a new system than spending time listening to customers – that’s just not as much fun.

And it gets more complicated when stakeholders get involved.

Most organisations are not really there to serve customers – they’re there to keep stakeholders happy.

People exist and do the jobs they do so that their managers can look good and in turn make their senior managers look good.

It’s all about looking good inside the business – which is why everyone spends so much time creating reports and sitting in meetings.

It’s the equivalent of baboons showing their red bottoms or peacocks displaying their tails – showing off.

And actually you can throw all of that away and spend the time you’ve freed up giving customers what they want and still have time to get home and have dinner with your family.

When it comes down to it value work is about effecting a transformation – going from recognising a need exists to filling that need.

Everything that contributes to that transformation adds value.

Everything else is waste.

It’s simple to say but very hard to do.

And that’s because people in charge need to feel like they’re in charge by getting you to make reports and play the organisational game.

What you’ve got to do is spend some time thinking about who your customer really is – and spend some time with them – study their situation so you can figure out what value work looks like to them.

Then you need to organise yourself to do only that and simply drop everything else.

If you’re really doing value work your customer is going to love you and stay with you forever.

If you aren’t – then you need to change your customer’s mind or fire your customer and get a new one.

Because life is too short to spend it doing wasted work.


Karthik Suresh

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