Back to how this applies to knowledge work. Many teams will take a work item and break it down into tasks (sometimes called sub-tasks; the label is less important). It is common for teams using a basic workflow to have the same tasks repeated for many work items, at least those of the same type. Working with multiple types of items is another topic completely for another post.
In the example of laundry, we can treat each load as a complete batch that needs to be “worked on.” As noted previously, to be valuable, dirty laundry must be clean, dry, and folded (and perhaps even delivered). It becomes instantly clear that each batch goes through the same steps from starting in a pile of soiled clothes on its way to being Done. If we are tracking the movement of loads of laundry, we could create cards on a board with the simple 3 state work flow. If each card listed the same steps, and multiple cards are in the Doing column, we have no idea from the board what the actual state of each load is (washing, drying, fold). With only a single washing machine and dryer, this is perhaps not that big a deal; you just look at it. However, if we had 20 washing machines and 20 dryers in a commercial facility and were providing a laundry service, it suddenly becomes a lot more appealing to be able to know instantly the status of every load in every machine without have to go and inspect 40 machines. As always, context is everything!
However, if we take the repeated tasks and translate them to “in progress” columns on the board, we gain instant visibility into where each load is in the process. By removing common information from each item, the information that remains associated with each load is both simplified and more specific to that load’s handling needs. If you are like me, you have at your peril ignored special instructions for various individual pieces and turned perfectly good wool sweaters into doll-sized clothes, or otherwise damaged perfectly good clothing!
The core idea in this step is that tasks shared across work items, often in the form of a sort of template that gets filled out, are signals of states work moves through. That’s such an important point it’s worth repeating: tasks that are repeated across multiple work items are likely representing states that work moves through! These tasks are the evidence we need to make an informed change to the board, our representation of the delivery process!
With states properly represented on a board, at a glance all work can be seen as a whole; the health of the delivery system is much more transparent.