The Art of Triage

One of my favorite practices of the lean / agile software movement is Kanban. Kanban is a technique from lean where you identify all your units of work as sticky notes, and maintain them in a 2d-ish grid to show their current status and priority. One of the results of Kanban is to show where bottlenecks exist in your system, which is great. Another result that is less talked about is to identify units of work that aren’t actually worked on, and eventually need to be triaged.

This is one thing I picked up from the team I was on in Vancouver. At the end of every week, we took a look at the work items that were on our kanban board (specifically bugs, but this applies to all tasks), and decided whether to keep things on the board. The general approach we used was “if it’s actually an issue or needed feature, it’ll come back”. Using that logic, we easily removed bugs, features, and tasks that were just not as important to the team.

Removing Waste

This is important because it reduces distraction and work that is not valued. You end up making only the things that matter. If a really serious bug or task comes up, you probably would prioritize and work on it fairly immediately (at least within the current iteration). If a non-critical bug or feature is introduced into your iteration and there’s no real pressing demand for it, odds are you’re not going to work on it. If you just leave it on your kanban board perpetually, you’re just going to keep stacking things on top of it and probably feel bad that you never get to that one task.

By removing those unnecessary tasks, you make a concious decision that this task is not valuable compared to your current workload. If that task does actually have value, it will more than likely reappear as it gets reintroduced by a recurring bug report or team member. At that point, you can reassess its priority and decide if where it compares to your workload, and repeat the process.

Personal Triage

This works in your personal life as well. A good example I ran into this morning was this tweet:

You could treat your list of registered domains as your own personal kanban board for projects you’d like to work on. And using the same triage approach, if you haven’t worked on that idea by now odds are you don’t really value that idea (at least in comparison to your current ideas).Drop the domain. If you come to a point where you get re-excited about the idea and are motivated to work on it, re-register the domain later and start it up then. Don’t let it sit in your list of domains, staring you in the face, reminding you of all the projects you haven’t started yet.