Scrum likes things transparent. You do something, observe the results and decide the next thing you are going to do based on the results.
But what if you don't know what you did? Hidden work makes things less transparent. You thought you did something and base your next steps on that, but actually there was stuff that was done that doesn't show up anywhere. This kind of invisible work is common in working life. Tech lead actually has to participate in some extra meetings, someone on the team is the power user of the company's intra and has to set up accounts for new hires or the product owner has thirteen different roles and only one of them is being the product owner.
Best case scenario is that the amount of invisible work goes down and your velocity goes up. For example HR starts to create the accounts for intra. Suddenly there's more bandwidth to do the things you are supposed to be doing and more uninterrupted working hours to use on your project.
You don't really know what happened, but it's still nice.
That's basically the only possible positive scenario though. More often invisible work hides dysfunctions and technical debt. Maybe there's something that always needs to get done so you can release but for some reason it doesn't show up as work on your backlog. Maybe it's someone else's problem. Maybe this time they have their own problems and suddenly your release doesn't happen. Or maybe the amount of invisible work differs. In addition of your project you do customer support and suddenly that customer has a lot of problems.
If you have invisible work, you can't have transparency. If you don't have transparency, you can't do Scrum or even be agile in general. You can't inspect and adapt if you are inspecting garbage data.
How does scrumlife handle invisible work?
Life is so messy. Last two weeks I have been sick and the kids have been sick. These were completely transparent situations and I knew velocity would go down.
No problems there.
How about if I sleep pretty badly? Is the drop in productivity visible or not? How much more metawork do I need to do to respond to emails or to psych myself up to prepare that presentation than if I would have slept great and was feeling 100 percent? If I don't feel like cooking today, how much more effort do I have to expend to still do it and what is the actual cost of that effort?
I don't actually measure velocity in any way with scrumlife so responding to these questions is fundamentally hard. Measuring velocity is an interesting question actually, so look forward to a separate blog post about that!
The idea that work could be completely transparent is an ideal. At work, with a discrete project and a team working only on that one project and nothing else, you could start to approach that ideal. There's still diminishing returns. Should you add a task on the backlog so it gets tracked, if doing the task takes about the same amount of time than adding it on the backlog? What if there are 20 tasks like that? Do you spend half a day adding them on the backlog? Do you spend half a day doing them and suddenly you have half a day of invisible work? Perfection is something you strive for but never reach.
When applying Scrum to living a life you have way more variables and timey wimey distractions. I think that makes it even more important to strive even though you get less perfection for your efforts than if you would be striving in more controlled environment. To mangle Nietzsche, happiness is is the feeling that transparency increases - that ambiguity is being overcome.
Guess I'll have to start that post about velocity soon.