Jason C

While We're At Its 2019-12-08

Every project runs into what I like to call while-we’re-at-its. When you are doing something, it can be a good opportunity to do other related things while you're at it.

Housing projects frequently have while-we’re-at-its. When you are already painting, why not replace the electrical outlet plates while you're at it? It is easier to do both at the same time.

If you need to pick up a few items at the grocery store, you might as well pick up additional items you need for the next few days. It is easier because it saves you a trip to the store later and it will only take you a few extra minutes. Running other errands might not make sense though, especially if they're out of the way.

This is a frequent problem in software engineering too. When working on one thing there are often endless related things that can be worked on at the same time.

In work and at home whenever projects start growing I stop and take inventory of what is mission critical vs what is a while-we're-at-it. This distinction makes it easy to look at just the while-we're-at-its to see which make sense and which can be cut.

If MVP is your goal then while-we're-at-its can be your enemy. Projects get stuck in stasis because of the while-we're-at-it trap. Also, while-we're-at-its can have higher risk because they don't get the same level of attention or are underestimated.

Perhaps if you decide to replace electrical outlet plates while painting you discover issues with the wiring. Since you already have the plates off, you might as well fix this wiring issue while you're at it. Maybe that leads to more while-we're-at-its or maybe electrical isn't your thing and you end up causing more issues. Maybe even requiring an electrician that could take a few days, halting your project.

So keep an eye out. By ignoring while-we’re-at-its we miss out on efficiency gains. By chasing them we can fall into an endless trap.

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