Improve Productivity with Clean Start

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The deadline approaches. You must get the project or task completed. You’re running out of time; you just don’t have enough time to get it done unless you start now. However, you don’t have everything to finish. That’s ok, you think, the rest of the components parts can arrive on time. You can ring up your supplier and get them to push your item through.


So, you get started. The promised delivery day arrives, but no component. “Sorry”, says your supplier. “The dog ate my homework and your item is delayed a week.” What to do? You can’t finish. You must set the task (project) aside and start something else.


You pick up the next task, and start that one.


Finally, the missing component arrives. You must stop the current task and re-start the other one, because, you’re late! While you curse your supplier for the inconvenience, you are wondering why this always happens?


Hurry up and start. Stop. Restart. Stop. Restart. Finish. At last.


“Is this normal?”, You ask. “Why can’t I just start something and finish it?”


This task switching; multitasking is common, but it’s preventable.


You must treat multitasking as a systemic issue. . Nearly half of American workers feel that they’re expected to finish too many tasks at the same time.[1] It is the number one killer of productivity, particularly in knowledge-based projects like software or product design. When project managers can control the work in the system, help their team members prioritize their tasks, and assess productivity effectively, only then can the team members perform at peak levels.


Is your team multitasking? It’s an opportunity.


An opportunity to improve your and your team’s productivity. Eliminating multitasking can boost your output by at least 20%. And it’s free.

Why Start Early?

We often confuse starting with finishing. We make the mistake of thinking that starting sooner leads to finishing sooner.


Under pressure to demonstrate progress, people will often start tasks before they and their teammates have all the information, designs, supplies, or tools they need to complete them (they have all this work!). These false starts are more than mere nuisances—they’re obstructions with significant consequences:

  • As partially-finished work clogs the work flow, every task takes longer and longer to fulfill.
  • When team members don’t have all the information they need, they make decisions based on only the available data, resulting in …
  • Re-work. If the prior assumptions were incorrect, partially completed work then will need to be redone, creating more unplanned work—which in turn causes additional costs and delays.
  • Delay. Sometimes, it’s not possible to stop and restart instantly. The resources that were available last week are not available this week. This is especially true in production and construction, where there is equipment to be moved and machines to be set up.
  • Increased costs. The extra set up to restart your task? Not budgeted. The rework? Not budgeted. Redeployment costs? Not budgeted. Overtime to get it done ASAP? Not budgeted.

What is Clean Start?

Clean Start, also called Full Kit, controls the quantity and quality of work introduced into the delivery system. The Clean Start process prevents work from being started and then stuck in the process. It ensures that all the critical task or project entry conditions are met before you begin work. The Clean Start rule is simple: don’t start on something until you have everything you need to complete it.


The objectives of Clean Start are to reduce re-work and delays (yes, re-work is a delay, but we want to reduce other delays as well). It improves productivity by ensuring that only work that can be completed is actually started, so nothing starts and stops—no multitasking!


Clean Start prevents the system from being clogged with work that cannot be sent along, and elevates blockages to higher levels of management for resolution (which is why this element comes after Collaborative Execution). It also has a nice side effect in that it eliminates over-processing. Implementing the Clean Start process not only has the effect of reducing lead-time and multitasking; it also helps to apply pressure at the early stage of the project.


The Clean Start process has two components:

  • A set of criteria for task completion and deliverables handoff, and
  • A sub-process to manage all work that is in the “pre-release” state. In order to establish this sub-process for a task, managers must create and enforce transparent pre-release and handoff criteria for each step (as managed in the VPB) in the process.

Clean Start is a Stage Gate Process

To begin your clean start process, break down your delivery process into sub groupings.


Stage Gate Process

Stage Gate Process


In the process map above, the delivery process has been broken into 6 stages. Each has its own “gate”: Define / Discovery, Design, Build / Development, QA /Test, Deployment, and Optimize.


After you have defined the gates, define the finishing criteria for each one. Answer the question, “What does it look like when it’s done?”.


Then, what is needed to get the work to ‘done’? That is your full kit criteria for that gate.


Next, is this a hard gate or a soft gate? Meaning, can the project manager manage the gate (soft) or does it require approval from functional management (hard)? Who owns the gate?  Who will be responsible for shepherding the work through the gate?


Define the process to get the task / work package through the gate.

  • Information
  • Components
  • Resources
  • Approvals
  • Etc.

Define who and when will manage the clean start process. The person who is shepherding may not be the person who is checking the bill of material against the on-hand balances. They are probably not the one pulling together the work package for the resources that will accomplish the work. How far in the future will the process work? Check today for tomorrow’s work? Check this week for next week’s work? The clean start process is critical for managing the resource loads and maintaining a smooth, consistent flow of work through the delivery process.


Consider how the clean start queue is incorporated into your visual board. Is it one column of “ready to release”? Is it two columns? One, “Clean Start”, then another, “Ready to Release”? How many work packages “ready” is acceptable? One day’s worth? One week?


Think about how the new process is incorporated into your collaboration meetings. Do you cover all the gates or just the gate in front of your constraint resource? You’ll have to balance the focus on action with the discussion of the activity. Add more things to the meeting and you’ll risk making it less meaningful. I would discuss the gate in front of the constraint resource at a minimum because of the constraint’s impact on the total system throughput.

VISUM Support for Clean Start

VISUM helps you manage your Clean Start process in three ways:


Checklists. Add checklists to any process step. Anyone can see what’s needed to finish a given work package or task. This supports standard work and quality control, reducing rework and delay.

Prioritizing work. VISUM gives you a clean start priority list for your clean start managers. It shows the task priority and which elements are missing. Process owners can see clearly what’s missing and which are most urgent. The right work gets done at the right time reducing delay and project durations.

Visualizing progress. VISUM allows you to see, on the card, the progress. If you need 3 items, it tells you how many are missing. It also tells you when the task is “ready”. The team can see at a glance which tasks need attention, prompting quick and early action on delays.


The clean start process can encompass a number of sub-processes, ranging from a very simple process like managing checklists to complex change management and scope control procedures. The important principle to remember is that once the work is released into the process, progress never stops. Finishing is what’s important, not starting. Slow down to go fast.


Establishing a “Clean Start” process will pay you dividends by increasing productivity and reducing the duration of your project.


[1] (Shellenbarger, 2003) Multitasking Makes You Stupid, Studies Say.


Stuart elliot says:

May 27, 2017 at 1:54 am

Well begun is halfwaY done. Showing people What to do to prepare while waiting for a project to be released is important. (MarK, why is This in all caps?)


Stuart elliot says:

May 27, 2017 at 1:57 am

Ah, the draft shows up in all cAps but the displayed version is normal sentence case.


karen souders, aia says:

June 7, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Good stuff sherri


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