Making it up

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I remember childhood games where my friends and I would say:

Make it that you’re a baddie and I’m the goodie.

Then 5 minutes later someone would declare:

Make it that we’re hiding and you cannae see us.


Make it that we can fly so when you find us we just fly away.

I’ve been on holiday for a few days, and I’ve been thinking about that phrase. “Make it that …”

Children playing
Make it that …

It’s like my 6-year-old self and my playmates really believed we could bend reality to our imaginations. If we decided we should make things this way, they would just be that way.

Of course they would.

Then I grew up and discovered that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that.

But what if – in our work, at least – it did?

What if we could change the way we work whenever we wanted?

What if the team itself could decide what’s working, what isn’t – and what we should change to make things better?

What if we managed ourselves rather than being told what to do by a manager? What if we could fine-tune the way we visualise and document our work as we go? As part of our work?

Well, guess what? That’s what we did. And I promise that’s the last question mark.

Our work board is our tool to help us visualise what we’re doing and optimise flow.

Reconfiguring our workboard
Reconfiguring our workboard

It doesn’t belong to management; it belongs to us.

It isn’t meant for reporting. It isn’t meant for planning.

It is how we organise, as a team, to get work to done.

So if we think it could be better, we’re free to change it. Any way we want. As long as the team agrees.

We can add, remove or change columns. Add ‘lanes’ for classes of service. Whatever works for us.

And it will change again. That’s the point: continuous improvement. Every 2 weeks we ask: how can we change what we do to make us better, to achieve better results?

And when we reach a consensus, we go ahead and do it.

If we think that work in progress limits are too low, we’ll increase them. Then see what happens.

A couple of weeks later we may have learned that that was a bad idea, and we’ll change it back. Or we may have learned that we’re still comfortable, so we could try increasing WIP limits a little more.

Until we find what’s just right.

And, OK, I lied about the question mark.

I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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