The Five Types of Work

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Business Projects, Internal Projects, Changes, and Unplanned Work. With one additional type of work, this view or work applies across disciplines, work styles, and industries, and actually applies to home life as well.

Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford reveal these four types of work in their book The Phoenix Project.

Business Projects are business initiatives. In software development they are capabilities that the customer can use. This description also applies to making things other than software. A business project in manufacturing could be to make a new version of the iPhone or a new type of cereal. An example of a business project in my house is to rebuild our deck.

Internal Projects are infrastructure project intended as internal improvements. In software development, this might include things like refactoring code and other clean-up activity that increases speed. In manufacturing it might mean installing a machine that improves throughput. In my house an internal project could be performing maintenance on my heat pump so that it works more efficiently.

Changes typically come from Business and Internal projects. In software development it’s the actually act of safely implementing changes to production code. In manufacturing, change management is key to making predictable and sad changes to the manufacturing process. An example of this in my house could be something as simple as trying a new recipe (“safe” in this case means that making sure that it’s allergin-free).

Unplanned Work is the thing that always gets in the way of doing the rest of the stuff. If code defect remediation. It’s defect tracking and resolution in manufacturing. It’s having to take a child to the doctor. All are necessary, but they distract us from moving forward.

What The Phoenix Project does not address is the actual people. As an Agile Coach, I view people are the most important thing. Teams an individuals should have a list of things they want to do to get better and expand themselves. I call this type of work Team Improvement. It could be learning a new programming language or learning a new collaboration technique. It could be getting certified in a new skill set. At home, it could be learning anything from cooking to learning Spanish to how to fix a sink.

The important first step is to be self-aware of your workload and what things fall into which bucket. Next is to recognize that each type of work has a different source and a different owner, each with their own priorities and needs. Finally, make a list and prioritize it so that the work remains visible. And for heaven’s sake don’t start everything because you’ll never get any of it done.