No Invisible Work!

Want to advance in your career? Want to empower your team with the information they need? There is one very essential rule you must also follow: No Invisible Work! Let me tell what this means and why this is so important.

No Invisible Work - Iceberg Metaphor

From a practical standpoint, all that matters to a business is its business results. If your work helps solve problems and make money, then it’s practically beneficial. However, just having the work done isn’t sufficient.

  • Who did the work?
  • How long did the work take?
  • Why was this piece of work done?
  • What projects or high-level goals did this work support?

The more people you work with, the more important it is to be able to answer those kinds of questions.

As a contributor, you need to be able to deliver value and have that value seen by others. Your image is much more important to your career trajectory and your connections than the actual work you do. But, it needs to be seen in a non-prideful way. No-one wants to see people bragging about stuff they did.

As a leader, you need to know what people are working on. What’s wasting their time? What parts of the project are time-consuming? What tasks need to not fall through the cracks? What do you think the work priorities are? What does the actual completed work indicate that the priorities really are? You can’t lead if you don’t know what work is happening.

How do we solve this bidirectional business need?

The Rule: Never Do Any Invisible Work

What is invisible work?

Invisible work is any work that doesn’t have an obvious effect attributible to a person or team. Invisible work is any work that doesn’t show up in any key reports. Invisible work is work that you do that your boss doesn’t know you’re taking care of.

  • When you fix a critical software bug you discover while tackling another feature, that’s invisible work
  • When you help out a teammate by offering some deep impromptu domain knowledge in a conversation or pair programming session, that’s invisible work
  • When you spend a couple hours filling out required paperwork, that’s invisible work

Anything that you’re doing for work that isn’t apparent and attributable is invisible work.

Solution: Make a Ticket

That sounds tough! How to avoid doing invisible work?

Very simple! Put the work you discover in the ticket system. Go to Trello/Jira/Monday/Asana/whatever and create a new work item for the work that you discovered that needs to be done.

This means the work get tracked, and correctly reported on. Also, you get the benefit of the dopamine hit and productive feeling from accomplishing that piece of work. This is a much better feeling than feeling stressed about the other work that you couldn’t use that time to do.

What if the task is too stupid to be put in the PM system?

First of all, there’s a lot of work that you might feel is stupid. If it’s actually a complete waste, then just don’t do it.

However, the reality is that none of our businesses have perfect process and so there will always be essential tasks that don’t seem high-value. Maybe they are high-value, and maybe they aren’t. Either way, if they are providing value and taking time, they are worth tracking.

What if the task is too tiny to be put in the PM system?

If it’s really, really tiny, then don’t bother with a ticket.

However, there is a big misconception in the software industry that most tickets are supposed to take at least a day, or multiple days. That’s honestly a terrible approach to software development and project management if you want to have healthy flow. Most companies have tickets that are too large. I have never encountered any team that had tickets too small.

Kanban Board - Visible Work


How do you ensure that everyone knows what work is being done?

Never do any invisible work.

Create tickets for all essential work!