Tags, markers and behaviour it drives on the board

· January 20, 2019

I just had a conversation with a client that I keep coming back to. It has to do with how we are using electronic systems that manager our work, for example JIRA and TFS.

I needed something to refer back to and I hope that you can get something out of me writing this down.

In this particular case the question was very straight-forward:

I think we are overusing the tag ‘Need investigation’

My question back was simple:

How is that tag going to change your behaviour?

Because it should, right? We are putting this tag on the item for some reason. Needs investigation - we should investigate then, I hope. The tagging feature, that we use in many electronic tools, would be some kind of marker on a physical board. A magnet or turning the card sideways, or what have you. We do these things because we want to give more information to people working with the item.

Hey, you that work with this thingy. Remember that this is a “Need investigation” item. I thought it would be great to know that, before you started.

Putting a tag on the item, means that it is different from the other, untagged items. If we don’t want people to behave differently then we should not tag it as something different either. Or inversly; putting the tag on all or many items means that everything is special which, as you know from Lego The Movie - means that no-one is special.

Obvious objection from the readers

But we are using tagging for reporting of different sorts!

Yes, your behaviour about reporting changed. We wanted this item to be reported differently.


Visualization is a powerful tool. We should use it wisely so that each thing we visualize is related to a change in behaviour we want to see. Tagging work is such a visualization. For each tag, ask yourselves:

How do we want our behaivour to change based on an item being tagged with this.

If you don’t find any interesting answer - don’t use that tag.

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