On Team Productivity, Tools & Flexible Data

I believe tools should be built to be flexible to empower their users.

" use good tools, the right tools, in a well-lit space." - Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I think the way the "technology industry" views tools for visualizing what they're producing is broken.

Here's why:

In my experience it's not unique that in a company there's the power struggle of "visualizing work".

  • teams want to visualize it in a way that helps them increase flow, reduce blockage and produces the most impact.
  • "Upper Management" wants to know what's getting done.
  • Project Managers want to know status updates on other team's boards that might affect them or their own team's progress.
  • Product Managers want to know when they can let customers know about features that exist.

These conflicting priorities are often the reason there's a struggle over "which tool do we use?" and the reason a lot of engineers get frustrated (because let's face it, often they're the ones who have the least amount of influence on org-wide tool decisions).

At first I thought this wasn't really a tooling problem, it was really more of an issue of people figuring out as an Individual Contributor: How do I visualize work in a way that works best for me?

As I thought about it more, though, I thought about tools like Trello that was really static, or GitHub projects that lets you filter but has really limited functionality or tools that have gantt charts or swimlanes...all of the tools I could think of had very static underlying data types. 1

I realized that it's really an issue of shared, common underlying data. We should be able to visualize (and tag it) data differently and all that really mattered for all of the stakeholders to be satisfied was that there be some minimal, common constraint fields (ie, maybe you only need two fields to be shared across each role: the task name and the "status").

Having only two common fields that are required gives individuals, teams and organizations the ability to add data types that help them visualize work and be effective.

Other individuals, teams and organizations can use the optional data types, but they don't have to (or even care that they exist).

By allowing each funnel of the org, all the way to the individual to add and visualize data types that work for them, they can create a dashboard that helps them with their desired workflow/way to visualize data that doesn't also undermine other people's way to do the same.

So what if the data about the was pivotable, so the state of the world could look like this:

  • The Company could have a simple list view of what's been completed this week across the whole company.
  • The Engineering Org has a high-level "template" Kanban board to visualize the flow of work.
  • My team can have a dashboard that has the same data, but we could pivot based on things like "tool" or "priority" or "impact".
  • As an Individual Contributor, I can have a Kanban board that helped me visualize the same work in a way that helps me be effective in my day-to-day tasks.

I want to see a tool that throws static views out the window and thinks deeply about creating open, flexible ways for data to be viewed as individuals zoom in and out through their organizations.


  1. I think there are some companies (I'm looking at you Tana, Airtable and Notion 😍) that are moving this vision in the direction I want to see it.

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