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December 18, 2017

Q&A With Dominica DeGrandis and Gene Kim

By IT Revolution

Recently, Gene Kim and Dominica DeGrandis had a chance to discuss Dominica’s new book, Making Work Visible.

Gene Kim: What inspired you to write this book?

Dominica DeGrandis: When I was a Kanban for DevOps flow consultant, I facilitated a lot of workshops to help organizations design and improve their workflow. Workshop attendees repeatedly requested a handout that they could reference during the workshops. They wanted to look at the example kanban boards and policies while doing the workshop exercises. Based on that feedback, I pulled together board design examples along with exercise instructions to use for my workshops.

Additionally, I wanted a reference for myself that contained all the information I would normally pull from my bookcase; for example, details on queueing theory, optimal batch size, and flow efficiency.

GK: What is it about visual cues that make them so effective?

DD: Images are easily received by the human eye, so the eye is naturally attracted to them. When used for visual cues, images, along with a few well-placed words, are quickly absorbed by the eye, making them easy to understand. We need little education to get the message. The combination of images and writing responds to our need for a nimble, unified language that can be used across an organization. In contrast, a litany of acronyms and lingo is commonly used to communicate across different departments where people seem to not speak the same language.

GK: What are the top mistakes you see being made by leadership when trying to manage their team’s time?

DD: Mistake #1: Leaders (and just about everyone else) think that work can’t possibly take that long to do. But things always take longer to do, primarily because people are overloaded. The desire to keep people busy all the time (a faulty perception for optimizing costs) doesn’t take competing priorities into consideration. The more work piled on people’s plates at the same time, the more opportunity for time thieves to do damage. Dependencies and unplanned work grow with each new work request, and this work expands to consume more capacity than people have to do the work. The desire to keep people busy 100% of the time actually slows down the rate at which people can finish work.

Mistake #2: Creative workers such as developers, designers, and writers need large blocks of uninterrupted time to do their work well. It takes time to get into the zone when creating. An hour is barely enough time for developers to get started working on a solution to a complex problem. It’s one reason why developers hate meetings—an interruption at an inopportune time can blow a whole day. Smart managers understand the need for creative folks to work uninterrupted in two-hour chunks, and they avoid scheduling meetings during prime creative time.

GK: What’s the most impactful learning you have had working with kanban and other visual methods of tracking work and flow? Why?

DD: Given a visual to look at, people can stand together to see meaningful and relevant info with which to make decisions from. Well-designed kanban boards provoke necessary conversations, such as conflicting priorities and bottlenecks in the system. From the right perspective, visuals can help people understand that most problems lie within the system (rules, governance, the way people are measured) and not so much with individuals. The system then becomes the thing to improve, not the people.

GK: What is your favorite kanban design? Why?

DD: Hah! My fav design as I write this in early December 2017 is one that helps people better prioritize their work, so a design that provokes conversations on prioritization. This is helped by tagging or coloring the most important kind of work to make it stand out, and by breaking work down small enough so that it is something that can be accomplished in a day—meaningful work item types. For example, which thing is the most important thing to do today? (I reserve the right to change my mind in the future.)

Information can be beautiful to gaze upon. I like a kanban design that is accurate, relevant, necessary, and…beautiful.

GK: (Bonus question) What was the best and worst part of writing a book? What was the biggest surprise?

DD: The worst was the endnotes—OMG! Pro tip for aspiring authors, do not procrastinate on citations!!!

The best part was when ideas flooded in while I was in “the zone.” I wrote as quickly as I could to get my thoughts on paper without worrying about grammar. Upon reading it the next day, I would realize, “Gee, this page is actually pretty good.”

Biggest surprise? Hmmm—two things stand out:

  1. How nice the drawings came out.
  2. The close relationship that occurs between author and editor—a friendship likely to last a lifetime.

Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow by Dominica DeGrandis is now available for purchase at all major book retailers in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

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