[2021 kcdc] black holes and revelations

This post is my live blog from KCDC. For more, see the 2021 KCDC live blog TOC

Speaker: Sarah Harper

Twitter @sarita1119


Why work gets stuck

  • Work moves through the system until it gets stuck in a phase
  • We like to think of things as a process problem. However, often a behavioral issue (not like major HR leve problems)
  • Reasons: someone out sick, not enough people know how to do something, blame testing
  • Agile black holes!
  • Detrimenta to process and team morale
  • Not obvious what problem is
  • examples: deployment, business requirements, code review, qa
  • Biggest black hole is the backlog

Back hole theory

  • Any work status which acts as a “holding pen” for work items will eventuallly turn into a black hole
  • Once enough are blocked for same reason, all future items will becme blocked
  • It becomes acceptable for things to get blocked there
  • No work appears to be done to outside observer – unclear who working on or what it is up to


  • Queue busts – something wrong and swarm around it. Teams decides to focus on something like a customer service queue.
  • Eceeed WIP limits
  • Blocked column
  • Too much in “done” or “ready” columns
  • Long staging cycle time

Learned Helplessness

  • Exercise: everyone got a piece of paper with three anagrams and people raised their hand as solved
  • One one side, first two not soleable. One other side, first two easy. Then same third one.
  • Taught first group learned helplessness.
  • Trained to give up.
  • I tried X times to change this

Locus of control

  • Exercise: how much control do you have over weather, food you eat, comute, home, projects at wor, team member participation. (Scale of none to all)
  • Think about what under control
  • Don’t blame others for things can control
  • Be alert when someone says can’t/imposssible

Self handicapping

  • Don’t try so can’t fail
  • Fear of looking bad
  • ”give to X because X can do fastest” – setting team up for failure if that person can’t do it.
  • That person becomes busy and a black hole
  • ”You miss 100% o the shots you don’t take”

Somebody else’s problem and the bystander effect

  • Brain edits it out because someone ese’s problem
  • Everyone ignores
  • May or may not actually be someone else’s responsibity
  • Bystander effect – assume someone else will take charge

How spot black holes

  • If have to scroll in a kanan board, have a black hole
  • Not obvious

Visual principles

  • Excercise: think about your kanban board For each of these principles
  • Figure ground – foreground vs background. What see vs ignore. Showed optical illusion of face/vase. Usually digital boards have a white background so white cards disappear into background. Can make a different color to stand out. Also, if something has a date contraint or a high priority, add contrast.
  • Common region – when obects located in same region, we perceive them as being grouped together. If everything looks the same, can’t tell. Change blocked cards to a different color
  • Similarity – thinks that look the same are assumed to be the same.
  • Proximity – things close together appear to be more related than things spaced farther apart. This is more of an effect than similiarity
  • Continuity – Elements on a ine are considered more related. Lines follow the smoothest path.
  • Focal point – watever stands out visually will attract and hold our attention
  • Closure – we try to find recognizable patterns
  • Just noticeabe difference – hard to see Jira dots for how long in state
  • Idea: have blocked work in a different color, in a lane on top. So you can see status blocked in.
  • Avoid too much color

Game: https://getkanban.com/pages/free-version

Escaping back holes

  • Have team talk about problem
  • Visualize future state and take action
  • Use a physical board or customize digital board as much as can
  • FInd an influencer on team that will give good feedback and help team accept idea
  • Queue bust (swarm around problem)
  • Root cause everything

My take

I learned a lot at this session. I like how it was different than a lot of agile talks. I have a bunch of things to take back

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