Organizing Work

Pattern 9.1: Backlog

A backlog (to-do-list) is a visible list of (often prioritized) uncompleted work items (drivers) that need to be addressed.

Types of backlog include:

  • operations backlog
  • sprint backlog
  • product backlog
  • impediments backlog

  • Implementation

    • analog backlog: sticky notes on a wall, or index cards, magnets and whiteboard
    • digital backlog: e.g. Google Sheets, Trello, Kanban Flow, Jira

Each item on a (prioritized) backlog contains:

  • a short description or a driver statement
  • a unique reference number (or link) for each work item
  • (the order of work items)
  • dependencies to other work items or projects
  • due date (if necessary)
  • (optional) a measure for value
  • (optional) a measure for investment (often an estimate of time or complexity)

Pattern 9.2: Prioritize Backlogs

Order all uncompleted work items with the most important items first:

  • work items are pulled from the top whenever there is new capacity
  • no two items can be of equal importance, meaning it is necessary to agree on priorities and make tough choices
  • Benefits
    • focus on most important items
    • shared understanding of priorities enables more effective collaboration

Pattern 9.3: Visualize Work

Transparency about the state of all work items currently pending, in progress or completed.

  • valuable for self-organization and pull-systems
  • system must be accessible to everyone affected
  • analog: post-its on a wall, or index cards, magnets and white board
  • digital: Trello, Kanbanery, Leankit, Jira, Google Sheets, etc.

Things to track:

  • types of work items (e.g. customer request, project tasks, reporting tasks, rework)
  • start date (and due date if necessary)
  • priorities
  • stages of work (e.g. “to do”, “in progress”, “review” and “done”)
  • impediments/blocks
  • who is working on which items
  • agreements and expectations guiding workflow (e.g. definition of done, policy, quality standards)
  • use colors, symbols, highlights etc.

Pattern 9.4: Pull-System For Work

  • people pull in new items when they have capacity (instead of work being pushed at them)
  • prioritize available work items to ensure that important items are worked on first
  • prevents overloading the system, especially when work in progress (WIP) per person is limited

Pattern 9.5: Limit Work in Progress

Limit the number of work items in any stage of your work process.

Work in Progress includes:

  • number of items in a backlog
  • concurrent projects or tasks for groups or individuals
  • products in a portfolio

When an action would exceed an agreed upon limit of work items in progress, this needs to be brought up with the group before continuing.

Pattern 9.6: Align Flow

  • in an effective organization, flow of information and influence supports the continuous flow of value
  • alignment is achieved and maintained through the continuous improvement of agreements

Flow of Value

  • flow of value is guided by (explicit and implicit) agreements and assumptions
  • work in progress is regarded as waste because it ties up resources
  • continuous flow of value reduces the potential for accumulation of waste
    • it also makes for shorter feedback loops and amplifies learning

Pattern 9.7: Coordinator (Role)

A person in the role of a coordinator is accountable for coordinating a domain’s operations and is selected for a limited term.

  • the coordinator may be selected by the group itself, or by the delegator
  • several coordinators may collaborate to synchronize work across multiple domains
  • instead of selecting a coordinator, a group may choose to self-organize

Read next: Organizational Structure


© 2017 by Bernhard Bockelbrink, James Priest and Liliana David. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0