Book Summary: Making Work Visible

Book Summary: Making Work Visible

Related to Mental Model Dictionary By Category - Encyclopedia (Column)
Related to Mini Mental Model Encyclopedia (Documen)
November 14, 2017
Recommended By
Related Quotes
Related to Timelines (Resource Source)
Resource Series


Other Summaries


Author Interviews


WIP  (Work in Progress) limits, capacity utilizationqueueing theoryLittle's law ,

Big Ideas

Time Theft

  • The #1 thief of time is too much work in process (WIP)

Symptoms Of Too Much WIP

  • Context switching is common
  • Customers wait for long periods of time
  • Quality suffers
  • Irritated staff
  • Someone asks you if you have five minutes and you say yes

Symptoms Of Unknown Dependencies

  • Coordination needs are high, and project managers run around trying to get everyone aligned.
  • People aren’t available when you need them.
  • A change in one part of the code/outline/plan unexpectedly changes something else.




“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” —Edwards Deming (source)

Kindle Popular

All it takes is a shift from haphazardly saying yes to everything to deliberately saying yes to only the most important thing at that time. And to do it visually. The solution is to design and use a workflow system that does the following five things: 1. Make work visible. 2. Limit work-in-progress (WIP). 3. Measure and manage the flow of work. 4. Prioritize effectively (this one may be a challenge, but stay with me—I’ll show you how). 5. Make adjustments based on learnings from feedback and metrics.

The Five Time Thieves

The five thieves of time that prevent you from getting work done include: 1. Too Much Work-in-Progress (WIP)—Work that has started, but is not yet finished. Sometimes referred to as partially completed work. 2.Unknown Dependencies—Something you weren’t aware of that needs to happen before you can finish. 3. Unplanned Work—Interruptions that prevent you from finishing something or from stopping at a better breaking point. 4. Conflicting Priorities—Projects and tasks that compete with each other. This is exacerbated when you are uncertain about what the most important thing is to do. 5. Neglected Work—Partially completed work that sits idle on the bench.

Why Too Much WIP Matters

Cycle time is the amount of elapsed time that a work item spends as work-in-progress. In addition, business value that could have been realized sooner gets delayed because of too much WIP. This is known as cost of delay. It’s a concept used to communicate value and urgency—a measure of the impact of time on the outcomes we want, such as customers buying our product this month instead of next month.
WIP is a leading indicator of cycle time. The more items that are worked on at the same time, the more doors open up that allow dependencies and interruptions to creep in.
We don’t know how long certain things will take something until those things are completed.

Little’s Law

There is a relationship between the amount of WIP and cycle time—it’s called Little’s Law, where the average cycle time for finishing tasks is calculated as the ratio between WIP and throughput. WIP is a primary factor in the equation. It’s obvious when you think about it—as soon as you get on a clogged freeway you know that your commute is going to take longer. For this reason, Thief Too Much WIP is the ringleader of all the other thieves.

Unplanned Work

This is the problem with unplanned work—it sets back planned work. It increases uncertainty in the system and makes the system less predictable as a result.

Productivity Measurement

Busy people, however, do not signal productivity—delivered value does.

Goodreads Popular