Waiting work wall

One of the things I do a lot when visiting software groups is simply sit with individuals as they work. Sometimes the person I'm sitting next to is a really superb developer. They finish their work fast and to a high standard and hand the work on to the next person downstream. This next person may also be really skilled but their work might just inherently take longer. If the amount of work passed on exceeds the capacity of the next person then a growing batch of work-waiting-to-be-started-by-the-next-person will naturally form and grow.

This batch of work-waiting-to-be-started-by-the-next-person is waste. That's well known and well written about. What's not so obvious and not so well written about is how it encourages silos to form. It literally forms a barrier between the increasingly separated silos that form on either side of it.

Think of each waiting-work-item as a brick in a wall. But not a long, low, queue-shaped wall that's easy to see over. Rather, a short, high wall. One that you can't see over. One that hinders communication.

The amount of waiting-work between two silos is inversely proportional to the lack of communication between the two silos. The more waiting-work, the less the communication. The less communication the more waiting-work. Round and round it goes.

So, if you have some really superb developers then beware. They might be creating a downstream wall of waiting-work around which silos are forming.