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Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash

Project managers juggle many responsibilities; time management, team coordination, resource planning, etc., all which have to do with managing and improving a workflow. Strategies, systems, and techniques have been developed in an attempt to help project managers improve workflow, but they often don’t expose or address root issues. This is where visible work is needed. 

Making work visible helps uncover hidden issues that are wasting time and slowing down your workflow.

Five Hidden Time Thieves

There are 5 main issues that visual work uncovers.

Work In Progress

The first is too much work in progress. There’s too much work in progress when the demands of a team exceed the capacity of the team. This results in slower delivery, increased costs, lower quality work, and other problems.

The reason why too much work in progress often goes unidentified is because team members don’t want to let down their team. They’ll take on more than they can handle because they’re afraid of looking incompetent or disappointing people. The best way to make this issue visible is by practicing radical honesty and building manager relationships so that capacity can be communicated.

Unknown Dependencies

The second is unknown dependencies. Unknown dependencies put a lot of pressure on a project manager because of the coordination they demand. They’re apparent when someone isn’t available when you need them because they don’t know you’re dependent on them, so they haven’t made time for working with you on something. An unknown dependency is also when changing one part of your project plan unexpectedly changes another. Making an unknown dependency visible means having foresight for connections between different parts of a project and planning accordingly.

Unplanned Work

The third is unplanned work. Unplanned work often comes in the form of work that is having to be redone, or expedited work requests. The biggest issue with unplanned work is that it takes resources away from planned work, which delays a project’s progress. When it comes to unplanned work, you can make it visible by anticipating it and budgeting time for it in your plans. In software development, unplanned work can also be alleviated by using development styles, such as TDD, that reduce the amount of unplanned work you’ll come across.

Conflicting Priorities

The fourth is conflicting priorities. If it isn’t clear what the priorities in a project are, people aren’t going to know what to be working on. To make this issue visible, you should clarify your current project’s priorities with your team.

Neglected Work

The fifth is neglected work. Neglected work is often pushed to the side because it’s not prioritized, and it eventually becomes a bigger issue the further you get in your project. Neglected work can be made visible by preemptively scheduling a time that lower priority work will be prioritized, i.e. a debugging period.

Kanban Boards

Aside from these specific issues, there is one way to make all of your work more visible: kanban boards.

Kanban is a Japanese term that literally translates to “visual signal” or “card”.  A kanban board is a workflow visualization tool that allows you to put the spotlight on your project’s priorities and progress. It typically has 3 sections that tasks are divided into: to-do, doing, and done. Having your tasks visualized like that helps you know what your project’s progress is and what should be done next.

Kanban boards can be either physical or digital. A physical kanban board is typically set up on a whiteboard with sticky notes or magnets, which can be moved to different sections as needed. A digital kanban board follows the same structure through software.

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