The snow ball effect: that is the metaphor that I was thinking about when I have prepared the talk "Making the Work Visible" for the Lean Software and System Conference occurred last week in Atlanta. The first idea turns around visualization as a catalyst for obtaining system understanding. To visualize an specific characteristic of your process, you need to think about it in a structured way, connecting this visualization to underline properties of your system. The exercise of doing that continuously generates understanding, which is what we are looking for at the end.
On the other hand, something interesting happens when you raise your level of system understanding. New ideas emerge. The need to visualize different perspectives of the work appears. The snow ball effect takes place and a new focus on how the system is designed can be established.
Three Design Focuses
After a small history and introduction, I started to describe what became the three main focuses and discoveries we have when designing our system:
#1 - Thinking in ecosystem rather than linear processes
By doing that, we amplified the directions we could follow to create understanding. We have connected different perceptions regarding the process. Themes like collaboration, personal involvement, engineering artifacts, coordination, achievements and others were considered once they are part of the whole ecosystem. Linear processes are still there, but not alone anymore.
#2 - Contextualizing visual information rather than using traditional reports
Information is part of the understanding process. You need information to get understanding. The usual way to get information is by querying your electronic data. While this is still a useful and important approach, when designing our system, we found valuable to connect the information about the work with the work itself. So, for instance, as you are seeing the current work in progress, you are also analyzing average wip allocation regarding the nature of work or the target market.
#3 - Organizing the system considering interconnected perspectives
This is probably the most important aspect of our design. Connecting different perspectives to model the environment help you to comprehend how things interact with each other. Visualizing the ecosystem in one direction enable you to create the necessary interconnections to see the system as a cohesive unit, amplifying your understanding about the whole.
Here is our model based on perspectives:
Figure 1: The system organized in perspectives
The system visualization expand itself from the employee to the customer, revealing several perspectives in the middle:
- A personal perspective offers perception of involvement for each employee that participates on the system;
- A team perspective gathers individual contribution around common goals and results;
- A systemic perspective offers an end-to-end visualization of flow, besides information to handle the work as a whole in different systemic situations like demand, in progress and releasing.
- A customer perspective allows you to extract the flow of work related to specific client or market targets which aggregates several clients.
Some perspectives are orthogonal to the main perspectives described earlier. They represent an specific filter applied to the whole system, so you can isolate the work with different characteristics, like the market target, for example, or the continuous improvement actions, as I have demonstrated on the presentation. We can expand that to isolate whatever characteristic of the system we think relevant to isolate. The main point here is that you can see the whole with an specific and meaningfull filter applied to it.
Figure 2: Orthogonal filtering based on meaningful properties of the work
Making things visible
You can make more things than you can imagine visible. Even abstract concepts like collaboration can be materialized if you have records of current/recent interactions between people doing the work. In essence I've presented 7 (seven) different dimmensions of visibility. Each one of them somehow connected to the main perspectives and affected by orthogonal filtering as well. Here they are:
- the nature of the work;
- the workflow;
- engineering traceability;
On the following slides you can get some clues about how all these dimensions are make explicit.
However, a more precise perception will come when you watch our electronic environment visualization in action, which are not available in the slides. As the presentation was recorded in video by the InfoQ portal and also in a desktop recording tool, we can wait for the release of these media to get the full picture about what is behind all these concepts. While this not happen, I let you some screen shots to help you on visualizing what I meant by "Making the Work Visible".
perspective of an individual
system performance perspective
card swarming view
A big "Thank You" for the kind audience in Atlanta and also for the several good feedbacks that I had after the presentation.