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Visualizing Projects: Bring Work in Progress Under Control

project management

Mark Woeppel - February 25, 2014

Multi-tasking: the dark art of doing many things…poorly.

Every time an engineer, a designer, an operator – or anybody – has to switch from one task to another, valuable time is lost. When the former task is resumed, more time is absorbed coming back to speed or reconstructing the necessary tooling. On either end, the focus that makes work both efficient and rewarding is lost.

When any given row has a disproportionate number of green tags (for work in progress), it’s clear that real productivity has been sacrificed to inefficient multitasking. With a quick team conversation, managers and team members can redistribute the load to restore focus to the project.

We find that, in general, most project organizations have at least 50% more capacity than they actually need. But their capacity is lost primarily through the stopping and starting, the working out of sequence, the waiting, the set-up times – all of that comes out of not seeing where we are

When work is released at the right time, tasks move efficiently through the process steps.

Full kit: projects start only when they can be finished

It’s just common sense: the sooner you begin, the sooner you finish, right?
Wrong. When projects begin without their “full kit” – the complete set of approved designs, drawings, tools, parts, etc. – they become subject to fits and starts. Multitasking increases and, worse, a greater proportion of the project becomes subject to re-work and re-tooling as the designs and other components come into the process sequence.


A “full kit” commitment restricts work release until all the pieces are in place. On the visual project board, the full kit can be seen at the extremes of the board:

Beginning: Note the column to the far left on the image above , “TBR” or “To Be Released.” Here, the manager can track the assembly of the kit, tag by tag, and restrict releases to tasks those with full kits.

End: The figure above captures the visual project board for a major petroleum company. Each row represents a different oil rig; each column, a necessary step to preparing the rigs for a maintenance overhaul. To fulfill the overhauls, the rigs must be shut down, which is both time-consuming and expensive. For efficiency’s sake, the company wants to minimize the number of shut-downs; complete oil rig task preparations are deliberately allowed to accumulate at the end of the board, so that the oil company can execute multiple maintenance operations while the rig is put off-line.

This is chapter nine and ten of our newest ebook, Visualizing Projects. Do you want to learn more? Download the full ebook here.

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