Visualising my work? Why would I care. If management wants to see what’s going on they should visualise it.
That was something I heard at one of the workshops I did within the last weeks and it was a comment that did surprise me. I started the workshop with the premise to get the group of people (I dare not to say team) in front of me into visualising their work via a simple Kanban system in order to assist them in finding impediments. What I did not anticipate was the sheer lack of motivation to take over any responsibility for their own work. In their defence: not everybody had that attitude. As you can imagine a large portion of the workshop afterwards was a bit wasted and focussed on the question of Why would I care? or rather Why would I make the effort?
The question itself is a really good one, and a question that a lot of coaches I work and worked with do skip in their workshops. The basic idea behind visualising your workflow is powered by a belief in two principles:
- Leadership on all Levels
The Benefit of Transparency
The Transparency you gain by making the complete work of your team, group or unit visible in a single location enables you to clearly see where blocks or jams of the flow occurs. It will provide you with hints about bottlenecks in your workflow and shows where to look for improvements. The great deal about this is that it removes the need for assumptions about where your workflow might be slowed down. Instead it provides you with sufficient and easily recognisible data. Furthermore it makes this information perceivable on all levels of your organisation. It is not only visible on your desk, but - if set up correctly - makes it easy for other people on your team, on other teams or even high-ranking managers to see where your flow is currently blocked.
Visualising your workflow in a way that is transparent to many people outside of your group is actually an act of Leadership. It puts you into a position where you take over responsibility and accountability for your work. Also, you give other the chance to take over leadership in their scope. For example, it might enable your superior to see and thus react on bottlenecks or other troubles that they would not know of without this kind of visualisation.
The Downsides or Why to Avoid Visualisation
Apart from all the benefits a visualised workflow (in Kanban style or otherwise) might have its downsides:
In an organisation which is lacking a culture that values taking on aspects of leadership, responsibility and accountability this kind of openness might backfire. If you are in such a place you should take care when designing your Kanban system and especially the board. The idea of visualising your work is not to focus on the Who but on the What. The goal of this kind of visualisation is to track the state of your work and not the people doing it. Also you should lead and maybe channel all discussions about what is visualised into a systemic view, thus putting the system into question and not the people within the system.
When trapped in such a culture, the best way to change it is acting as paragon of a better world. You see, there is a reason why Visualise the Workflow is one of the Kanban Core Properties.