In A Digital World, Is Your Team Treading Water or Truly Making An Impact?

A recent survey shows that 86 percent of IT leaders believe that all firms will need to offer digital services in the next 12 months or risk becoming less relevant to their customers. Given that digital leadership is now mandatory for enterprise survival, IT executives will need to create the next generation of digital products and services to grow revenues and boost profits.

Enterprise IT operations teams will need to manage their current monolithic applications and legacy infrastructures while rolling out customer-facing digital apps and services built on cloud-native architectures. How do IT pros stay focused on the digitization of products, services, and operations while also dealing with the latest service outage or weekly fire drill?

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Meet Dominica DeGrandis, a thirty-year IT veteran and the author of Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow. DeGrandis is an expert on using Kanban to improve workflow and coordination between Development and Operations teams. Making Work Visible is for the stressed IT leader looking to make the most out of their day and stay on task without falling prey to the latest distraction.

Who Is Stealing Your Time?

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How do you gain more productivity and deal with frequent interruptions while working? Get acquainted with these five time-thieves to manage organizational context and flow:

  1. Too Much Work-In-Progress. Work-in-progress (WIP) is a silent killer for most IT teams. WIP is the work that you’ve begun but without any clear end date. WIP rears its ugly head when you know that your team is drowning in work because you never put your foot down to any incoming requests. Why does WIP matter? If your team can’t complete its current quota of projects on time, you’re not creating value for your business.
  2. Unknown Dependencies. Unknown dependencies steal time from your team with a need for coordination (you should talk to your database team before making any changes to the customer records), expertise (InfoSec needs to sign-off on the new integration), and architecture (you don’t want things breaking in production because of missing context). Understand the different dependencies at work across all your projects and you can “double your chance of delivering on time by removing a dependency.
  3. Unplanned Work. What happens when your team is in the middle of an important release and your CFO calls you because the order processing system fails to issue invoices. Does your team drop everything and starting fixing this issue? Unplanned work is a double whammy as it upsets existing projects and introduces uncertainty into your schedule. Unplanned work also increases the total amount of WIP in your system and ensures more stress and context switching for your teams.
  4. Conflicting Priorities. Do you work in a team where every priority is urgent and important? Do you have regular meetings to align priorities across your long list of projects? If every task is a priority, your team will be stuck with half-finished tasks and not be able to focus on the work that matters to your business. 
  5. Neglected Work. Do you take the time to fine-tune your legacy cache application that delivers high throughput and low response times? Or are you too busy working on new products that use the latest programming methodologies? If you neglect to maintain critical systems, technical debt will ensure that you’re fixing bugs instead of building new services.   

Making Work Visible

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So, how do you expose these five time-thieves so that you’re able to do your best work? A visual system like Kanban helps you clarify your work-in-progress, mutual dependencies, unplanned work, conflicting priorities, and neglected work so that you can clearly organize your workflow. Lean and Kanban practices make work more predictable, drive faster business value, and create a positive working environment. 

Kanban boards let you quickly spot what is derailing productivity and deal with unannounced work on your own terms. Each Kanban board has three core elements: the tasks that you need to start (To Do), the activities that you are working on (Doing), and the projects that you’ve recently finished (Done). Here’s how you can use Kanban techniques to make your work visible across internal and external teams:

  1. Set Work-In-Progress Limits. If you’re experiencing work-related stress all the time, it’s probably due to the pipeline of tasks that you’ve started but never finished. If you wish to get your WIP under control, it’s time to set some hard limits using categories. You can categorize work under silver bullets (urgent fire drills from senior management), business requests (work that grows company revenues), and teamwork (projects that keep everything humming). Once you’ve established these categories, impose limits on how much work you are willing to accept in each category. If there’s an urgent new request, explain how it will impact the different projects and initiatives that you are executing.
  2. Account For Organization-Wide Dependencies. How do you keep up with cross-functional dependencies while building a new application? Use Kanban boards with dependency swimlanes or dependency tags to communicate and track unforeseen dependencies. Instead of relying on traditional project-based teams that relinquish control at the end of each phase, organize your teams by product groups that stick around to build the necessary domain expertise (including knowledge of architectural dependencies).
  3. Keep Close Tabs On Unplanned Work. Unplanned work can derail your best-laid plans. Visualize all unforeseen work by creating a card for each task that shows up announced. Next, measure the ratio of unplanned work to planned work so that you can accommodate unexpected work. If your unplanned work ratio is 35% every week, clear one-third of your weekly schedule for handling unforeseen work.  
  4. Embrace The Right Priorities. How do you know if you’re working on business-critical projects? Use the A3 method of problem-solving to clarify priorities and focus on pressing organizational matters. Also, calculate the cost of delay for different projects to determine the most valuable initiatives based on cost and revenue.  
  5. Don’t Neglect Maintenance. Instead of spending all your time putting out fires, block some time to tackle fire prevention. Sustenance work is all the more important as it helps protect existing revenues by doing the work that’s necessary for supporting a fully functioning system. Make optimization activities visible by flagging maintenance tasks that you haven’t addressed in the last thirty days.  

Making Work Visible is a must-read for IT practitioners looking to regain control of their time and finish everything that they start. Learn how to visualize your tasks and expose the time thieves that are driving you to distraction with Lean and Kanban practices.

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