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The four types of work

The four types of work

Since I started my professional career, I’ve always tried to better organize my work. In my early days, I was just doing things as they came and never planned my work or at least time frame for it. I have to say that it worked! I had some hard weeks, some very long days but in the end, I always managed to do my work as expected.

Becoming a team lead and a project manager made my life a bit more complex. Who hasn’t experienced critical issues or tasks to be accomplished « ASAP » ? Well, again you can pause everything, work on this task and restart your previous one after. You still can go back home one or two hours later this day. Again this will work for little task with no dependencies not impacting to much the scheduled work.

Dealing with big projects with strict planning, a team who is not 100% dedicated to the project and with lots of dependency made me organize my work and my team work differently. I’ve started to keep some margin to all the planned task in order to get rid of the 2 additional hours a day off. And again it worked most of the time.

Even if the last technic is working, it increase the time of planning because even if you keep margins, there is always the need to re plans and reschedule the work when something unexpected require this margin.

Last year, I read a really nice book that I recommend to everybody : The Phoenix Project (or The Goal for non-IT people) and among lots of other interesting things I discovered what was called « The four types of work ». And that just splashed in my face giving me the explanation of why I always had to re plans and reschedule tasks as they arrived.

The truth is that even if I was giving me « free time » by adding margins in my estimations, I wasn’t identifying the real work I was doing. I identified only two types of work : my every day and planned work and all other « urgent things ». My mistake was that I categorized the task using criticity and not « types of work ». In the Phoenix project, four types of work are identified and they need to be accepted, treated and planed differently. The four types are:

  • Business work: The main project you are working on
  • Internal work: All the work needed for a project/team/company/individual needed for their business work
  • Changes: All the actions needed to correct or improve the two previous types of work
  • Unplanned work: All the things that just arrive with an « ASAP » dead line that may or may not be related to business work but needing immediate action

Said this way, it seems pretty obvious. But in reality really few peoples really take action and plan considering these types of work. Also, it may be really difficult to explain that you estimated three working days for a specific task but that you’ll deliver only in five days. No, I didn’t plan to sleep for two days and then speed up to finish everything during the last three days but I anticipated than after starting from day one, some really urgent action will be needed to help a colleague, or the need for a specific tool for the actual job to be installed.

Usually you just finish adding a 20-40% margin to a task and says that you’ll need five days. The real danger in this behavior is that even if at the beginning you really estimated and plan everything including the three other types of work, at then end the whole project/team/company will ultimately only consider the business work. Other tasks are just masked. And be sure that the masked work will never be accepted as an excuse when needed.

To be honest, I really don’t know how to make improvement in the community/company to be able to accept the situation but I am committed to make a change in the mentalities on the subject and avoiding masking every task behind the business work.

I’ll be happy to discuss about experiences in such realization (or attempt) in your own environment.

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