Where does the process of building predictable workflows start? What, first and foremost, needs to happen to enable you to make reliable delivery commitments and hit your targets consistently?

Ultimately, achieving sustainable predictability begins with a shift in your perspective from managing your workers to managing the work itself. And the approach you use to visualize your work has the potential to make or break your improvement efforts.

Your team will see their work the way your board design communicates it. And if leveraged inappropriately, it can seriously hinder your ability to achieve optimal performance.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Your Brain Decides What You See

Have you heard about the framing effect?

It’s appealing to believe that our thoughts and choices are based on logical, rational judgment, but much of our thinking is subject to various cognitive biases.

One of these cognitive biases is the framing effect.​​ The framing effect occurs when a person changes their perspective based on how they perceive certain information. It demonstrates how a small change in the way something is presented can have a significant impact on our decisions.

Imagine you are in a shop and you want to purchase a healthy yogurt. Which of these two options do you feel seems like the healthier yogurt choice: “99% Fat-Free” or “1% Fat”?

If you take a moment to think about it both these yogurts make the same claim about their fat content. Both yogurts contain 1% fat, and so, therefore both are also 99% fat-free. However, if I asked you which yogurt seems healthier, you’d be much more likely to show a preference for the “99% Fat-Free” option.

What Does Your Board Design Communicate?

The way you visualize your work on your board dictates how your team perceives it. Based on this perception, they will make choices, both consciously and subconsciously.

And here’s the thing: if the columns on your Kanban board represent specialties, what this structure communicates to everyone in the team is that they should work on their columns. These columns represent their work and they should keep their focus on their

And if you start hearing expressions like “my work”, “your work” and “their work”, this is a huge sign that you’re heading in the wrong direction.

Delivering results in a predictable manner is a team effort, not an individual effort. There are a lot of moving parts and effective collaboration is crucial. Often, this would mean that people from different specialties will have to jump in and handle activities that don’t necessarily fit within their area of expertise.

Imagine that all the work is stuck in the Testing state. If your developers perceive that the Testing state is the QA’s territory, they will leave it well alone.

But in this situation, to enable the flow of work and start delivering results faster, the first and foremost thing that should happen is to have available team members move to the Testing state and help the QAs.

What about if there is an aging work item sitting in the Analysis state and the analyst is currently busy working on something else? Is it possible for a QA to jump in and help analyze the scope of the work to preserve the predictability of their workflow? If they see this activity as the responsibility of the analysts, will they do that on their own initiative?

Your board should visualize how the work is flowing through your process. The columns should represent the activities your work is moving through and the main responsibility of your team should be to self-organize around these activities to deliver results in the most efficient manner possible.

How to Get Out of the Rabbit Hole

Let’s look into one of the most common examples of visualizing a development process that I come across.

Development process board design

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward and at the same time, this board is designed with a strong emphasis on specialization.

Now, if your board looks like this, and your team has already built bends between each process state, what you should do is consider changing the names of your columns. Instead of Analysis, call that activity Revealing Concepts. Instead of Development, call it Crafting Results. Instead of Testing, go with Mitigating Risks. Use your imagination.

And if you’re struggling to enable a smooth flow of work and you want to build predictable workflows, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.

Here is your action item: Gather your team and brainstorm new names for your columns. Make this exercise fun and engaging, let your creative juices flow. The goal is to break the connection between the activities of your work and the specialties in your team.

Strive to create a board design that encourages people to perceive themselves as a team, one that promotes collaboration and doesn’t push them towards making self-centered choices.

Your board design should reveal as much information about the work as possible and let the people move through the work activities instead of pressing them to stay in their own rabbit hole.

The goal is to move away from “my work”, “your work” and “their work” to “our work”. This is the ultimate mindset shift towards achieving sustainable predictability.

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