Make all work visible!

06 October

I have recently been working with some Agile teams who were struggling to deliver their planned velocity.  Stories were identified and estimated, elaborated and planned and the team started work only to discover that no matter how carefully they planned they were unable to deliver value at the rate they thought they should.

During a retrospective we discussed why this should be, everyone was comfortable that the time they had estimated was realistic and when tracking tasks their plan vs actual ratio was very close.  

Further discussion identified that team members were also working on “maintenance” and business-as-usual tasks, but these tasks were not being tracked as part of the team’s work.  We delved deeper and identified that over the previous iteration some of the team had been working on these “high priority” tasks for more than half of their working time. 

We conducted an experiment and wrote story cards for each piece of non-project work the team had been working on, and subtracted the time spent on this work from the available time in the iteration and low-and-behold there was the missing velocity.

Subsequently, we’ve made an alteration to the story wall – we put a horizontal line across it with the project stories tracked above the line and non-project work shown below it.  Now our velocity estimates take into account the average time spent on “below-the-line” work (I heard one team refer to these tasks as submarine work), and we’re back on track in terms of estimate-actual velocity delivered, AND the business customers understand why the delivery rate has slowed down – look at the story wall, there’s all this work which is not project related!

A simple change that’s reduced tension and increased communication within and outside the teams.


Posted by Shane Hastie