I think you all know this situation: During a team synchronization meeting, for example during a daily standup in front of the Kanban board, each team member talks about his actual work. And now you will hear something like: “Yesterday I had to do an urgent support task for another project and therefore I could not work on my actual task”.
This is a very common situation, which you don’t like as project leader, but in most cases you have to accept it. But on the other hand, if this will happen regularly, it will become a project risk because the team will spent less time to work in your project and this will jeopardize your timelines.
These extraneous tasks may or may not become a project risk, depending on their frequency and duration and depending on the general project circumstances. Therefore it is important to observe and control such extra tasks. I think an easy but very powerful way is to show them on the Kanban board (or Scrum board or whatever you use to manage the team tasks).
Visualization on the Kanban board
Whenever a team member works on a task which is not related to your project and therefore not yet planned at the Kanban board, you should add these tasks to the Kanban board. This means, handle them like normal project tasks: add them to the WIP column and let them move thru the normal process up to the done column.
Furthermore I recommend you to visually highlight these additional tasks. Use a signal color like red for these tasks. This will help you, your project team and your project manager or product owner to see whether there are few or many of such additional tasks.
Advantages of this visualization
You do a regularly team synchronization so that everyone knows what all team members are doing actually. This will allow you to synchronize depending tasks. Therefore it is also very important that the whole project team knows if someone works on additional tasks and therefore will have a delay on the actual project task. In this case the team has to accept the delay or another team member has to take on the work on this task.
Furthermore you may use a Kanban board to visualize your work outside of you project team, e.g. to the product owner. For example you may have placed your Kanban board on a location where the product owner can see it every day. In this case the highlighted signal color of the additional tasks will do their work. Believe me, as soon as you have a lot of red tasks on you board, the product owner will see it and ask for it.
This visualization will help the product owner and yourself to see whether the additional tasks may become a project risk. As soon as their number increases you will see a lot of red tasks on the Kanban board and then you and the product owner can act accordingly.
Last but not least you should never forget to honor the work of you project team. If you don’t visualize the additional tasks you unfortunately come into a situation where the team members will be underrated or even seen as unproductive workers. Because in this case you only see that they have delays on the project tasks. But if you visualize the additional work you may see the opposite and can honor all the work of your team members.
It is very common that your team members sometimes have to do unplanned tasks outside of your project. This may or may not be a project risk, depending on the frequency and length of such interruptions. So, it is important for you and the whole project team to know about these additional tasks. Therefore you should add these tasks to your Kanban board (or task board).