Making Work Visible - Exposing time theft!

Agile Coaching.

Nov 19, 2019  ·  Sam Laing

Agile Coaching

Do you ever get to the end of a day, week, or month and wonder where all that time went? What did you do? What did you achieve? Why do you feel so exhausted and yet your to-do list looks just as long, if not longer?

Research has shown that people regularly take on more work than they are capable of.

Uh, ok. Why do people do this? Well, research also demonstrated that:

  • As team players, we feel “I don’t want to be the person who lets the team down”.
  • We fear humiliation – “I don’t want to be criticised or fired”.
  • We like something new to work on – so the focus shifts to the new from the work which is yet to be completed.
  • We may not realise how big the request is – before taking up the new request.
  • Importantly we like to please people – “I say Yes to most requests as I want to be liked, admired …”

(Thank you Dominic DeGrandis, you can watch her speak about this here:

A change in behaviour is needed.

How can you help your people (and yourself) move from being busy towards being effective?

What we really want and crave is continuous, smooth and fast delivery of value.

And the biggest thing standing in the way of this is too much Work In Progress (WIP).

This post is about Making Work Visible which is a great way to realise and reduce WIP.

In most of the businesses I visit everyone is very busy. They rush from one meeting to another and barely have time to stop by the bathroom. Lunch happens in meetings or at desks and often work is finished at home or over the weekend. Unfortunately this leads to some work been rushed through and much work just being dropped or forgotten.

There are many problems here. People don’t have enough time during the day to have breaks for lunch. Also, busy people are usually rewarded for this behaviour. “You are so busy, you work so hard, you must be very important and great at what you do.” And this makes them want to keep doing it. A nasty spiral indeed.

Correlating activity with business value is risky. High activity levels do not equate to high business value – high activity levels actually mean hidden queues which result in delayed project timelines.

Read the above paragraph again, slowly. Being busy SLOWS YOU DOWN.


When we take on more work than we have capacity for, queuing theory comes into play. This is Kingmans Formula. Essentially, the time taken to finish work increases dramatically as your utilisation approaches 100%.

I like to think of a freeway (or highway/motorway) metaphor here. A fully utilised motorway is a nightmare, but it also resembles a parking lot. Every little bit of space is filled with a vehicle. The motorway is not there to act as a parking lot. Instead it is meant to provide a transport route in a reasonable time from point A to point B. To do this, there needs to be some space between cars to allow them to drive at a reasonable speed. So optimal use of the motorway should never be 100% utilisation. (read more about this here:

A good idea is to have 25% more capacity than demand.

That means you should only plan for 75% of your time.

Unmasking your WIP overload

The big 3 culprits causing WIP overload are usually:

1. unplanned work (interruptions, context switching from planned work)

2. conflicting priorities (competing requests)

3. dependencies (with people and teams outside of your control)

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Start with where you are. Monitor for a week how much of your time is spent on:
    • Planned work vs unplanned work (this includes interruptions etc)
    • Project work vs ongoing work
    What are the percentages for these? Is that what you expected? What would you like it to be?

    You need to PLAN for UNPLANNED work. And you need to do some MAINTENANCE work to speed up process. (Maintenance is the time you set aside to do this type of investigative work into your process.) Maintenance should be planned, so allocate 5 % for this.
  2. Create PRIORITISATION policies. What is the highest priority? Who can change priorities? Making these decisions visible to all will help people maintain focus and not be intimidated by the loud voices.
  3. Anticipate CONFLICTING PRIORITIES. Talk through what you will do when this happens. How will your policies help?
  4. Stop interrupting yourself:
  • In windows: To turn off the notifications, you need to go to Windows Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. Under the Notifications section, turn off all the notifications you want to prevent from popping up.
  • In Outlook, select the “File” menu. Select “Options“. Choose the “Mail” option in the left pane. Scroll down to the “Message arrival” section. Check the “Display a Desktop Alert” box if you want a notification box to appear when you receive an email. Uncheck it if you don't want a notification box to appear.


A maximum of 75% utilisation is a good starting point. This gives you permission to say no to adding too much to your plate. It also allows others to see how much WIP is happening.

Partially completed work results in unmet value.

YOU are in control. STOP the time thieves!

Categories: Agile Coaching.