I was browsing books and was pleasantly surprised to come across Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow by Dominica DeGrandis. I met Dominica several years ago at a Kanban workshop in Seattle. The book came out at the end of 2017, so maybe I am not that far out of touch.
One of the central ideas in Making Work Visible is described in the subtitle - the idea of "time theft" and Dominica identifies five thieves. (The wording is a little awkward, but the concepts are right on.)
- Too much work-in-process.
- Unknown dependencies.
- Unplanned work.
- Conflicting priorities.
- Neglected work.
DeGrandis works through defining each of these thieves in more detail and then uses them in discussing strategies to overcome them. Her discussion has a lot of fun - giving the time thieves a personality: laughing, rubbing their hands together, etc, when people do the things that feed them more. The worst of the thieves, and I totally agree, is the Too Much WIP thief. This thief reinforces all the other thieves and the other thieves reinforce it. It's a big set of vicious cycles.
So, how does one go about putting these thieves in jail? The biggest answer is the title of the book: find the means to pull the work out of the shadows. Make Work Visible. DeGrandis recommends the Kanban approach to expose the work AND expose what blocks things from flowing. These are the things that the thieves hate - the less people know about them, the easier it is to operate. She works through a number of the aspects of Kanban boards and how they can help identify where the thieves work in an organization.
I appreciate that there is no ONE way to setup a board: each organization has its own needs, and the way the thieves work will vary. But hiding the work won't help anyone. It will make the work seem more complex and confusing. Get it up on a wall and move towards improving the flow. The flow of what? Why value, of course. But whose value. Degrandis touches on this briefly, but we can't be doing things that are "easy" but only sit in the "done" column. The beauty of making work visible is that this should start to become visible too.
Making Work Visible is a nice addition to the work around flow and Kanban that I've come across. It helps clarify more of the why behind visible work, and some of the thinking that will arise as that work is seen and understood by the team.