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Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow

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If someone stole your wallet, you'd notice it. So why don't people notice when they are robbed of something much more valuable than their wallet—time?
Today's workers are nonstop requests for time, days filled to the brim with meetings, and endless nights spent heroically fixing the latest problems. This churn and burn is creating a workforce constantly on the edge of burnout. In this timely book, IT time management expert Dominica DeGrandis reveals the real crime of the century—time theft, one of the most costly factors impacting enterprises in their day-to-day operations.
Through simple solutions that make work visible, DeGrandis helps people round up the five thieves of time and take back their lives with time-saving solutions. Chock-full of exercises, takeaways, real-world examples, colorful diagrams, and an easy-going writing style, readers will quickly learn effective practices to create high-performing workflows within an organization.
The technology world—and indeed the whole business world—is moving at a pace faster than ever before, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Instead of consigning ourselves to the pressure cooker of the modern world, it's time to elevate how we work. It's time to level up our game. It's time to make work visible.

264 pages, Kindle Edition

First published November 14, 2017

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Dominica Degrandis

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 177 reviews
Profile Image for Alexander.
Author 2 books15 followers
August 3, 2018
If you like "The Phoenix Project", you must read this - and if you didn't read it, you should read it anyway.

This book should be considered a standard reference for practical Kanban and how to manage work.
It is split in to three parts:

* Part one explains the five thieves of time
* Part two shows how to use Kanban to hunt down these thieves
* Part three is about creating Metrics and getting Feedback

The content is from practitioners for practitioners which makes this book one of the most valuable I've ever read.
The visuals are spot-on and the general style makes reading the book an absolute joy.
Profile Image for Steven Murawski.
6 reviews2 followers
January 8, 2018
Critical Reading for Anyone Who Does Work

I started this book with a decent understanding of Kanban techniques and expected a similar recap of those ideas, maybe with a focus on IT Ops. What I got was so much more!

While this may seem evident from the title - "Making Work Visible", there is so much more uncovered in this book than just getting your tasks in columns on a whiteboard.

I've spent most of my IT career focused on automation of tasks. One of the first challenges we face when starting any automation project is getting an understanding of what work to automate. This book delivers some great tools for helping identify automation targets. When you make work visible and start the discussion on priority of work, the focus on what will provide the most value to automate becomes much clearer.

But that's not all you get!

Dominica starts by exposing the five time thieves and detailing how they keep us busy and overcommited while allowing critical work to fall by the wayside. It is in this section that Dominica describes tech debt work (work that has accumulated due to short cuts, deferred maintenence, the passage of time, or other point in time decisions) as revenue protection.

For me, this was a criticial connection. In the DevOps and Digital Transformation discussion, we look at how we can relate our development and IT operations work to customer value. What we often have a hard time voicing is how to fit those tech debt tasks into that value stream. When we look at it from a perspective of revenue protection, (keeping services available, responsive, and secure helps keep customers ya know..), it becomes evident that those tasks need to be represented in the work we are doing.

Another major takeaway for me was in the focus on the metrics of the flow of work. Dominica dives in to a variety of metrics that can be gleaned from using Kanban and, more importantly, what those metrics mean for the flow of work through the organization.

This is required pre-reading if you are planning on (or have started on) a Digital Transformation or DevOps Journey.
Profile Image for Emre Sevinç.
143 reviews282 followers
August 27, 2020
If this is the first time you're hearing about Kanban style of working, you can consider this book almost a 4-star: it is very readable, with a lot of anecdotes from the author's professional challenges, and conveys the most fundamental concepts and terms in a colorful, easy-to-digest manner by using many examples. In other words, if you're just curious, this is not a bad starting point at all.

On the other hand, if you're a professional with even one or two years of experience in organizations and teams that use Kanban, Scrum, or Scrumban type of workflow and management practice, you won't get a lot of new insights from this book, therefore for such people this book will deserve 2.5 or 3-star rating at most. You will mostly nod your head in agreement with most of the principles, and be able to have empathy with the author whenever she describes the business, communication, visibility and office politics challenges she endured whenever she tried to change things.

Long story short, the book explains the simple yet effective principles of Kanban, and motivates how these can be used for better time, project, product and work management by cutting down waste. It also has simple (maybe too simplistic for some people) explanations of important concepts such as WIP (Work in Progress) limits, capacity utilization, queueing theory, Little's law, etc. (for the curious IT operations and software people who want to go a little deeper, I'd definitely recommend "The Essential Guide to Queueing Theory", September 8, 2016, Revision 3, by Baron Schwartz.)

Maybe one of the most important key takeaway is: visualize, visualize, visualize! Oh, and keep those visualizations up-to-date, and put them some place where people will easily see. Of course, whether you can successfully apply these to every team and organization is a very different story, and this book hints at the challenges, but it barely scratches the surface. You will most probably need to consult other books for a deeper dive, and on top of that, experiment (and fail in various ways) in your environment with your people to find out the optimal way.
Profile Image for Chase Adams.
4 reviews16 followers
January 29, 2018
I discovered Making Work Visible when I needed it most and was most ready for it. It is a canonical book for anyone who wants to be effective at getting the right things done in the right amount of time.

Why It Mattered To Me

I was two months into my journey as a manager for a small technical team whose primary responsibility was to manage an overwhelmingly active queue of support requests.

I was struggling with two major tensions:

1. "How do I know the work we're doing is the right work for the right time?"
2. "How do I ensure we're able to be effective?"

I wanted to increase our internal customers' velocity and happiness by decreasing the request resolution time without increasing risk (production systems) or hours at work.

I was uncertain (and lacked confidence) of how to best visualize the team's work to uncover our constraints (what Making Work Visible calls Time Thieves).

Making Work Visible equipped me with tools to ask the right questions to find clarity about my tensions and overcome my lack of confidence. In the short amount of time between finishing the book and now, my team has made a number of small changes to help us expose the 5 time thieves. In the past two weeks, I've received feedback that these changes have made our internal customers feel better supported and engaged, given back our sibling teams time to spend on planned work without increasing headcount or the amount of hours my team is working (my next goal is to reduce the amount of hours we spend on this work).

Key Takeaways

Setup a workflow system to do five things:

The solution is to design and use a workflow system that does the following five things: Make work visible. Limit work-in-progress (WIP). Measure and manage the flow of work. Prioritize effectively (this one may be a challenge, but stay with me—I’ll show you how). Make adjustments based on learnings from feedback and metrics.

Exposing The 5 Time Thieves

Making Work Visible has a number of exercises to try out with teams to expose the time thieves. The ones that resonated with me to start with were "Explore the Five Reasons Why We Take on More WIP" & "Demand Analysis".

How Is Work Prioritized

There's the way you want work to be prioritized and the way it is prioritized. Creating a label for who asks for a task, tracking whether it's planned or unplanned, and how compelled we are to get it done will enable us to determine how the work is truly prioritized. If we can be aware of how work is expected to be prioritized, we can have a deeper discussion with the person who asks for that work to help us increase visibility into the things they're going to ask for with more notice.

Lean Coffee

"Lean Coffee"—a meeting format created by Jim Benson:

Lean Coffee turns traditional, one-direction management meetings on its head by helping teams uncover the most important topics to the majority of people, by allowing everyone to hear and to be heard, and by providing real-time feedback.

I've always disliked agenda-less meetings, but the idea of a meeting that's purpose is to determine what the important topics are and talk about those topics? That's a meeting format I can get behind. I'm excited to try this style of meeting out with my team (as well as a few non-work meetings I'm a part of) to uncover what's really important and needs to be talked about and talking about those topics.

Other Topics I Learned About:

- 5 Time Thieves
- Kanban
- Flow time
- Operations Reviews
- Queueing Theory

Some Favorite Highlights

We allow the chaos of modern work coupled with an often paralyzing number of options at our disposal to overload us, to distract us, to stealthily steal our time and focus and ultimately impede our effectiveness.

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.

Indeed, time is sacred. Treat it as such. Visualize your work. Limit the amount of work you take on. Pay attention to its flow. Build thoughtful work systems to reflect what really matters. To breathe. To think. To learn. To grow. To play. To love. To live. For it is in working well that we can live well.

Added Bonuses

Book recommendations abound. There were at least 4 other books that Dominica mentioned that caught my attention and are now on my list of books to read.

Quotes. Every chapter starts with a quote and I found myself highlighting almost every one.

Who Should Read It?

If someone has asked you "how are you doing?" and you responded with, "I'm (SO,TOO,VERY) busy!" or "I'm working way too much.", read this book.

If you are on a team where no one knows what anyone else is doing, read this book.

If you know you could be completing (operative word) more work in less time but can't determine why you're unable to do it, read this book.

If you find yourself with a million things to do and you suffer from deciding where to start, read this book.

This book doesn't encourage overwork or hero mentality, rather it gives you the tools to ask, "how can I be more effective without spending an insane amount of hours working?"
January 16, 2018
Excellent handbook and review of Lean and kanban practices I'm already using at work, describes several things we can be doing better, and considering the traction this book has at work right now, I bet we'll be making process changes soon.

Engaging read, easy to understand, attractive layout and graphics. Could have used an editor (cost reasons I bet) as I saw a good many typos, plus the use of both acceptable spellings of queueing / queuing.
Profile Image for Ahmad A..
72 reviews17 followers
October 26, 2018
Making Work Visible is the best book on Lean-Kanban that I have read to date and I have read quite a bit. This book stands out from the other books on Kanban, Lean and Agile processes books in a unique way by clustering the core problems that Kanban was originally designed to solve via Visualization.

There are mainly five categories of problems which are presented as Time thieves in the book, namely:
1 - Thief Too Much WIP
2 - Thief Conflicting Priorities
3 - Thief Unplanned Work
4 - Thief Neglected Work
5 - Thief Unknown Dependencies

Th book doesn't only outline key observations for spotting whether any of these thieves are chewing on your time away, but also devise a plan for fixing the problems, as well as, show you how to rethink your Agile Metrics to optimize the Kanban process further.

I completely recommend this book to everyone who is working on a Software team. Good luck!
Profile Image for Trung.
112 reviews29 followers
June 24, 2020
This book is mostly applicable in the author's context of working which is IT DevOps.
Profile Image for John.
407 reviews398 followers
June 26, 2019
This is a concise introduction to Kanban, focusing on the idea that your teams and colleagues need a way to see (with their eyes . . .) work so that it can be planned, discussed, and remove surprises from the organization. I would say that if you're a new practitioner of some kind of agile methodology (Scrum, Kanban, whatever) and want to tune up your work boards, this book could help quite a bit. It is not doctrinaire, and provides a lot of different patterns; no specific software package is discussed, and indeed the book makes a good implicit case for physical boards. The book also knows that not all patterns are for everyone, and contains a judicious chapter called "Beastly Practices" (173-183). where the author rants about some ways that you can shoot yourself in the foot (e.g., Gantt Charts, but perhaps more critically, individually-named swim lanes -- don't do that!).

The book is punctuated with team exercises where you use sticky notes in a variety of ways to level up your teams. The exercises seem a little dull to me, though, compared to what you might find at tastycupcakes.org and other places.

The book has a nice discussion of flow metrics and queuing theory (pp, 141-149), but there is a fatal flaw in this discussion, which is that Little's Law requires that all work be measured in the same units. Good luck with that: I don't think the discussion here is going to provide you with something you can use "out of the box," though the author does recommend Vacanti's Actionable Agile Metrics.

There are some bonuses. Tangential to her main topic is the idea of "Lean Coffee" (pp. 165-168) which is a way to bubble up ideas from a group in a semi-democratic way. We have a large meeting at my company that exposes "red flags" and "green flags" but it has become boring with less utility: An occasional "Lean Coffee" might be just what we need.

Profile Image for Tõnu Vahtra.
539 reviews77 followers
March 22, 2020
I was a bit afraid that when you have already read several books on Lean and Kanban then the added value from one more book might be marginal. On high level this was the case but there were still several interesting thoughts in the book. It's a mix of different books ("This is LEAN", "Personal KANBAN", many quotes from Goldratt (THE GOAL) and another reminder to finally complete "Drive" from Daniel Pink. Authordidn't say it directly but there were several subliminal references to Phoenix Project also).

I will take a few concepts from the book to everyday work:
*Marking unplanned work and measuring its trend over time (later this can be used for more accurate predictions in planning).
*Scheduling longer stand-ups and actually not using all the time (when work has been made visible you do not need to repeat who is doing what and you can focus on the blockers and challenges, second part of the meeting can be used for catching up with manager and discussing needed topics in organic groups).
*The initiative of identifying pain (interruptions, conflicting priorities, your "customers" pain) and making it visible in KANBAN). Somebody saying they have no pain/problem is a problem by itself (denial).

-Too much WIP
-Conflicting priorities
-Unplanned work
-Neglected work
-Unknown dependencies

"There is one most important thing—let people know what it is. Conflicting priorities occur when people are uncertain on what the highest priority is. This leads to too much WIP, which leads to longer cycle times."
Profile Image for Christopher Litsinger.
734 reviews7 followers
June 5, 2019
This book struck me as mostly a love-letter to kanban. It had practical advice for how to put it into practice, but I found it short of ideas on how to make it _better_ within my operating environment.
For a bit Degrandis started talking about probabilistic prediction, and I got excited about that, but she never suggested a useful formula for calculating it.
Probably the most thought-provoking bit for me in this book was the application of Little's Law to a kanban board. I happen to think a lot about Little's Law at work (I manage an API gateway that applies it to the way it calculates rate-limiting):
We can look at Little’s Law to understand the math behind why WIP extends completion times. Recall that lead time equals WIP over throughput. Given WIP is the numerator of that fraction, we know that when WIP goes up, so does lead time. Algebra and theory aside, the proof is in measuring the day-to-day experience.
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
952 reviews839 followers
October 7, 2018
How to describe this book? Kanban in the most simple words possible (w/o trespassing the border of not respecting reader's intelligence ;>).
Who I'd recommend this book to? All the people who think that "Kanban" is just a layout of issues in JIRA (yes, there are more of them one could expect ...).
Is it a good book? Decent enough - it's still better to read Anderson's original book, BUT I'm aware that many people won't. So in such case, MWV is still a good choice - sensible starter for building up a Lean mindset.
What did I like most? The book is not "mechanical" - it doesn't tell you basics about drawing lanes & sticking cards - it presents the concepts & why they do make so much difference.
Profile Image for Marcus Hammarberg.
Author 2 books14 followers
October 4, 2018
read most of this book in one big gulp - I simply could not stop myself.
My immediate feeling after reading it is that my head is spinning with things I need to try.

The content is super actionable, clear and beautifully presented. Also, everything is well grounded in practice & theory - the author oozed experience through the stories.
On top of that there's nice splash of fun to keep me reading.

I recommend this book to anyone doing Kanban, Lean, Agile or Scrum
Profile Image for William Anderson.
134 reviews23 followers
March 2, 2018
Really just excellent. This is a fantastic guide to kanban board design, but goes so much further providing numerous tools to visualizing WIP and helping identify and clear bottle necks. If you are intersted in visualizing tasks, dependencies, interuptions, work, and value then read this.
Profile Image for Roland Curit.
164 reviews3 followers
January 5, 2021
I started this book in late 2020 and despite its short length, 200 pages with lots of pictures, I struggled to reach the finish line. 5 pages here, 10 there. I had difficulty remaining focused on topic. A year ago, I had read “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim. It was twice as long and covered the same topics but in story book fashion. That worked for me. I still rave about that book today. I bought “Making Work Visible” to gain insight into why my 2020 seemed overly work heavy despite not spending 90 minutes in daily commutes. I did not learn anything new. Rather, I felt trapped in a never-ending training session. At the end of each chapter, Degrandis offers exercises that require white boards, markers, and sticky notes. Each exercise sounded identical to the previous and required a full team of participants. No value added for the solitary reader. The book’s premise is that work thieves steal your time and decrease productivity. The author gives them names: Thief Unplanned Work, Thief Conflicting Priorities, Thief Neglected Work, etc. Honestly, sticking “Thief” in front of everything was a slight turnoff. Key Takeaways are offered in bullet form at the end of each chapter. These were good reminders of what I had struggled to read, since it often took a week or more to get through a single chapter. In fact, had the book been condensed into 10 pages of Key Takeaways, I’d have finished in less than an hour and been just as informed. I do not wish to totally dump on the material, though. Degrandis is an industry leader on the topic and I am sure in the right hands, this could be the right book at the right time. Just not my hands and not at this time.
30 reviews
July 14, 2021
Insightful little book

We all know that we are constantly being interrupted during working hours, seems we can't ever finish anything meaningful, but why? This book explains in a nice way the time thieves, makes a case for flow metrics.
As I read the chapter for flow metrics I measured all the flow time and cycle time, calculated the distribution of my team velocity and was able to prove few things that I knew were true but couldn't actually convince nobody. Just for that I think this book deserves a read.
Profile Image for Adriano Jesus.
13 reviews
January 28, 2022
O autor enumera os principais ladrões de tempo:
- muitas tasks em WIP;
- dependências desconhecidas;
- conflito de prioridades;
- trabalho não planejado;
- trabalho negligenciado;

O autor segue apresentando formas de otimizar o fluxo e tornar visível os problemas usando o Kanban.

Cita algumas teorias relevantes sobre fluxo de trabalho como teoria da restrição e teoria das filas, fortalecendo o propósito do livro.

Livro com resumo bem rico e prático sobre o tema, fácil e rápido de ler.
Profile Image for Andy Parkes.
366 reviews8 followers
July 16, 2021
I have mixed feelings on this one.

The short description of this is that it's a high level overview of Kanban.

If you're already aware of what that is though a whole bunch of this book will mostly be familiar to you.
So while this is a really well put together book I didn't come away from it bristling with new ideas. That would be different if the concept had been new to me though

Profile Image for Miguel Silva.
21 reviews
August 23, 2021
Interesting but I was expecting more, maybe because I already know the topic and I’m working on improving Work Visibility and efficiency for a while now I didn’t found new information on the topic. If this is a new topic I recommend the book, if you are someone that already works on this field you will only validate your knowledge :)
Profile Image for Roman Kolodiy.
2 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2021
Must-read for anyone who use Kanban.
Author highlights importance of measuring progress as key and true indicator of team performance, as it could uncover those nasty reasons why many projects got delayed all of the time.

In the first chapters we can familiarise ourself with well-known “Thefts” that prevent from getting work done, in the second chapter we are introduced to tools and processes that help to deal with “Thefts”. In the third chapter we discover useful metrics that could help improve delivery predictability.

In the summary author gives advices on bringing change inside the team.
Profile Image for Niklas Heer.
77 reviews9 followers
October 1, 2020
I like this book it focused me to see the time thieves and help me to make them more visible, but if you already read „The Phoenix Project“ or „The Unicorn Project“ you won’t find revolutionary ideas in it.
I can recommend this book to everyone who wants to see more clearly were your efforts go.
Profile Image for Paulo Saraiva.
13 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2021
Excelente livro para entender a importância do controle de fluxo e eficiência em times ágeis. Provavelmente a melhor referência para este objetivo.
Profile Image for Sergey.
50 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2019
Useful and practical book for implementing kanban methodology, with most experience drawn from applying it across Operations teams. Editorial process could’ve been more diligent.
44 reviews
Want to read
May 11, 2019
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
113 reviews3 followers
October 3, 2018
My boss’s boss gave this to me to read and I actually found it extremely helpful. I got thrust into a Kanban process with no education and this lays it out simply and with lots of context. I felt like there were practical applications to the advice that I could implement which generally does not happen from a management book.
18 reviews
December 24, 2017
This book describes the common items which end up being where a lot of our productive time ends up going ("the thieves"), and outlines several strategies (with many great examples) of how to make the thieves visible using Kanban boards. If you're having trouble doing Kanban, this is a good book for showing several different approaches you can try.
Profile Image for Vlad Ardelean.
132 reviews22 followers
December 12, 2019
Some good ideas, nothing special

Fortunately the book is short.

Tell you what I won't do: get a physical board and stick postit notes on it. That's what she's proposing. I'm sorry, but I won't do that. It's very easy for these consultants, while on their workshops, to get out big whiteboards and stick postit notes on them.
Vert romantic, but wrong. I'm working with JIRA at work, and am limited by it. I won't change from JIRA to postits, because JIRA has a lot of benefits, mostly regarding communication with stakeholders from other offices.

Then regarding the time thieves however, I think there are good ideas there. Mostly I got the argument that when there's too much WIP, stuff gets done slower, mostly because of context switches, then because of failure demand, which can lead to more hurrying up, which will lead to technical debt, which leads to invisible work...so yes, bad team patterns amplify each other - that argument makes sense.

What this book lacks completely is some kind of numeric support. There are no published reports of what happens when a certain strategy (limiting WIP for example) was used. There's absolutely nothing else in this book except for arguments which sound ok in principle, and stuff to try out, and see if it helps. Now that's perfectly fine, but it's also the reason why for me this book only gets 3 stars.

I wouldn't recommend this book to people who want concrete solutions to team problems. Except for "limit WIP" there isn't much I got.

This book feelsnvery much like "preaching to the choir". If you already agreed with her conclusions, her arguments might seem compelling. That's a human bias though, and if you look at the actual arguments on their own, there's really not much convincing power in this book.
Profile Image for Wendy Sherrock.
66 reviews
August 27, 2022
I’m upgrading my original review from a 4 to a 5. Excellent book on implementing Kanban and WIP (Work In Progress) limits. This is my second time reading this book. Dominica starts the book by covering the five time thieves. She then provides guidance in building Kanban boards, establishing WIP limits, and navigating some of the more common challenges you’ll encounter working to implement.

I love the visuals to help you imagine how you might implement Kanban for your particular type of work. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Bjoern Rochel.
370 reviews66 followers
September 7, 2018
I like the presentation and style of the book. Might be a good choice for the first Kanban book. Not so long ago though I read "Product Development Flow" and "Kanban from the inside" which go far beyond the content here. In case you've read those or dived deeper into Kanban before, I doubt that this book brings anything new to the table.
533 reviews10 followers
October 23, 2018
Simply the best book I read in a long time. It shows how time thieves steal all your time and how you can act to minimize their effect. In my opinion one of the best books about Kanban and how making your work transparent is the first step to work more efficient. Definitively a must read for everyone who works in projects.
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