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Red Work vs Blue Work

Managing the two kinds of work

October 21, 2021 - 408 words - 3 mins Found a typo? Edit me
leadership people


“Blue Work” and “Red Work” are concepts that David Marquet describes in his book Leadership is Language. Both require different mindsets and have different languages.

“Doing” in our traditional leadership style will not take us to where we need to be in the future.

What is “Red Work”?

Red Work is about doing and reducing variability. Red Work focuses on a proving mindset and a performance mindset.

In Red Work, you seek for completing a task without a lot of need for deciding what or how. Red Work is being in control and taking control. Such as:

We need a mechanism to stop Red Work and ask: are we doing the right thing?

What is “Blue Work”?

Blue Work is about deciding, thinking, planning. Blue Work focuses on improving with an embarrassing mindset.

The correct place to do Blue Work is at the beginning and at the end of a decision point.

Blue Work is crucial for a good starting point, allowing us to decide the best way to do something with the information that we have right now.

It’s also important to establish short iterations between the different actions or activities that we want to complete, so we can have some “Blue Work time” and reflect again. Blue Work is perfect to do retrospectives and see what could be improved.

It’s the time to stop and “control the clock”, collaborate and make a commitment for the next iteration. Blue Work is also about:

Blue Work in isolation is useless. The job of Blue Work is to make Red Work better. Endless Blue Work, planning without outcome doesn’t bring any real benefits.

Nowadays, especially in our modern software industry, there is no room for the old school of “Red-Workers” and “Blue-Workers”, but “Red Work” and “Blue Work”, and everyone should be involved in both.

It is, therefore, everyone’s responsibility to be aware of these different types of work and find a good balance between them. Leaders involve everyone in both Red Work and Blue Work.