Snakes of Pain
Develop | Posted December 10, 2008

We know the good parts about computer-aided project management.  Everything in one place, transparent, query-able, change-able.

The problem with electronic tracking systems is that they're not tangible.  Whether it's 317 bugs in various domains and with various degrees of difficulty or 2000 feature requests, we can't seem to get our arms around it.

Entering data into an "infinitely large database" removes even basic intuitive notions we have like "Is this too much stuff?"  "Where is everyone on this stuff?"

With feature-planning we use physical index cards to represent tasks.  When everyone's setting around a table it's easy to see who has 12 cards and who has 1.  Simple, intuitive.

I just read a great little piece about another technique to make physical what is otherwise invisible: The Snake on a Wall, also known as the Pain Chain.  The idea is to slap a note on the wall every time you're noticeably delayed by something:

Every time a team member feels as though a task they are responsible for is delayed, they write it down on a post-it note. The note includes the time lost (compared to if they didn't have the delay), the thing affected, the cause, and their initials. They take the note and add it to the "end of the snake" which is a growing row of notes on the wall.

Even before trying this you know it will work.  You know it's going to uncover some massive, heretofore unseen delays in your everyday processes.  If nothing else, it's certainly worth trying for a week to see what happens.