Giving a home to “orphaned” work

June 15 2015

I’ve been working with an institution that is raising the prominence of both Risk and Service Improvement in its IT organisation. In the sensible manner that we usually go about implementations of this nature a vision has been described, teams of people have been pulled together and a lot of thought has been put into process and methodology.

In conversation with the process owners, responsible for the delivery of these work streams, an understandable concern was voiced very early on and it went along the lines of….”we can’t just be the owners of a register or log but our teams aren’t big enough to implement all the improvements suggested/eradicate all the risks identified. We need this to work on a wider scale”…I’ve paraphrased but you get the gist. All too often endeavours such as this can wither on the vine because maybe there is ambiguity around ownership, there is a contention for resource or a lack of clarity around the priority of these activities.

If we want to engender a culture that accommodates values such as these; Continuous Service Improvement, confronting and tackling Risk to ensure stability and predictability then we need to provide mechanisms for our people to carry out these activities and what’s more important is making this commonplace and every day. But how? ITIL may suggest those logs or registers, which I mentioned earlier, and committees or review meetings, reports and whatnot; Lean may suggest running some sort of 5 stage project. Both of these approaches have their positives but what they lack is the coverage of “coal-face” routine and daily discipline shared by everyone to really enable universal cultural adoption.

So, what to do? (Well we have not set those methodologies aside; on a macro level they prove very useful so the process owners are delving into them to get pointers on managing long term improvement and understanding the cumulative effect of theirs and everyone else’s efforts.) Having implemented Kanban to an increasing number of Service teams, which has already brought about a growing list of benefits, we have suggested evolving a couple of the boards with the adoption of a technique known as “class of service”.

Here’s the scenario…..Whereas we have subsequently only had story points/work written out on white cards, giving the board a mostly monochrome feel (notwithstanding the bright blockers and often vivid avatars!) we have begun to use different coloured cards to represent different types of work. White is still reserved for things such as aged incidents, service requests and service owned sprint projects (the things we make a promise to a “customer” to fix or deliver); green cards are given over to service improvements (things we identify ourselves as useful pieces of work to make us more efficient or effective); red cards describe identified and logged risks. The main difference between green & red and white is that we don’t really have any explicit agreement with the customer to work through those coloured cards but we know there is value in doing so and, as mentioned, there is an aspiration within the organisation to focus on those disciplines. The lack of the agreement can affect motivation and ownership and often leads to tasks of this nature becoming orphaned. Accepting this work on to our backlog or “demand” ensures that it is conspicuous and not forgotten about, languishing somewhere in a register. The addition, at the top of the board, of numbered cards challenges us to expend effort on this work in the stated proportions. The example in the pic at the top of the page shows that for every 5 BAU cards we play through, we agree to play 1 Risk and 2 CSI….there is another card on the example that may describe work such as ancillary Project tasks that Ops may need to carry out for our Dev colleagues in order for them to be successful.

Dealing with the work in this way, by accommodating it into our work stack, offering over a proportion of our time and effort can ensure that there is “flow” in all these important areas and types of work. We ensure that recently adopted processes have the room and focus to flourish and get the initial kick start to gain enough traction to reach a tipping point, pay back and deliver value. This also staves off the contention that sometimes arises when newly instigated process owners come looking for our valuable staff as secondees which can negatively affect the capability of teams – if they know there is flow, when they put demand in they get value out the other end in a timely manner, there is no need to poach specific staff or ring fence certain talent. Above all it gives us a way to work together when the opportunity arises.

There are other applications for class of service, give it a go if you think it may help you with an issue you feel you have, have a look through those logs and see if you can find any orphaned tasks huddling together wishing for a home, take them in, treat them right ….and let me know how you get on.