Unplanned Work

Unplanned work is any interruption that prevents one from finishing something or from stopping at a better breaking point. It increases uncertainty in the system, and makes the system less predictable as a result.

There are times when unplanned work is necessary and understandable, but you should be weary of increased risk, uncertainty, and reduced predictability.

Cost of Delay

Work that has not been prioritized is work that has not been planned. When there are competing features, requests, support tickets, etc., it can be difficult to prioritize what should come first.

Most of the time, teams prioritize based on what the customer wants, what the stakeholders want, etc.

Cost of Delay makes it easier to decide priority based on value and urgency.

How much money are we costing (or saving) the organization if Feature A is delivered over Feature B?

Capacity Planning

The most common pitfall that keeps teams from delivering work is unrealistic capacity planning.

Teams that plan for 100% of their capacity are unable to fit unknowns into their cadence, whether that be unplanned work, spikes, or continuous experimentation and learning.

Planned capacity should fall between 60% and 80% of a team’s max capacity.


  • Plan for unplanned work. Pay attention to the patterns that present themselves, and analyze what kind of unplanned work is making it to your team’s backlog.
  • Make work visible, planned and unplanned, and categorize unplanned work based on value and urgency.


As a development team, we want to understand how to plan for unplanned work, so that we can reduce risk and uncertainty for our deliverables.

Last modified December 15, 2022: Fixing some typos (#28) (9efde39)