Keep the production funnel free

In product development with collaboration of product management, development and operations, development often is the bottleneck – represented by a funnel:

funnel_blank-1024

Also it is typical that the product management has more ideas than the production funnel can execute:

funnel_pm-1024

With something like Portfolio Kanban, the organization can make this transparent and more manageable. Nevertheless, development limits the throughput.
Often it happens that too large packages must go through the funnel, resulting in longtime blockings:

large_tasks1

Or even worse: the development team works on several of these large packages in parallel. This results in a later delivery of work results for all parallel packages:

large_tasks2

In my experience, this well-known problem is too seldom resolved.

What often comes on top (especially in more technical products): Developers must help product management (for proof of concept, feasibility checks, checking of ideas, …). The capacity in the funnel is reduced by this support. The effect of narrowing the funnel is later delivery. Sure, somebody will notice…

funnel_reduced1-1024

Bugs are also capacity thieves. Due to poor quality (maybe due to high pressure), the development team spends a part of the capacity to fix bugs.

funnel_reduced2-1024

This reduces the time available for delivering valuable stuff which will be delivered later. Sure, somebody will notice… Pressure will increase, which leads to poorer quality. A vicious circle.
Daily business also can narrow the production funnel.

What can we now do about it?
Of course, the first step would be to identify if our development team is affected by this and to which extent (I guess most development teams are affected).

One pillar of Agile (not only Scrum) is transparency. Provide transparency about the capacity thieves in the production funnel allows us to argue and to find solutions. How to provide this transparency? Somehow the development team must gather data about the stolen time. Maybe you have a time tracking system in place – then you must ensure accurate bookings. Or you put a sheet of paper on the wall and let everybody write down once a day the stolen time. The gross capacity also needs to be recorded.

table_tracking

After a reasonable period, data is transferred to a spread sheet to do the math. The data can be shown as the following examples show:

graph

As you can see, making the graphs visible to all stakeholders, makes it easier to make decisions. It also is a good input for the team retrospective.

Another helpful practice is to reduce the number of task switches due to capacity thieves. That means, concentrate them in a timeboxed meeting or timeslot or on one team member (rotating).

Also address malfunctions of the product owner:
• Insufficient product and/or market knowledge
• Poor requirement management skills
• Poor quality of requirements

The development team’s first responsibility is to deliver and not covering malfunctions. But also try to reduce inefficiencies and increase skills in the development team.

Spending time to support product management in ideation and requirements elicitations is not necessarily bad. Early involvement may later result in less risks, clearer requirements and better mutual understanding.

By consciously taking care of the production funnel width and keeping it as clear as possible the development team can deliver better and faster.


I hope, you enjoyed my new blog article. Feedback welcome!

Brainstorming adventures and insights

In one retrospective I gave the team 10 minutes for a silent brainstorming. They started writing sticky notes. As expected, after about three minutes, the writing slowed significantly down. As experienced facilitator, you have to stand this phase of low activity with all eyes focused on you, begging for salvation.

But what happened now in my retrospective? One put out his smartphone, followed by another one. I couldn`t believe it. The remaining time, I kept monitoring the situation and thought about it. When the timer bell ringed, I appreciated the participation. Then I told them about my observation. The omnipresent distraction by smartphones (and the upcoming smartwatches), resulted in a few sticky notes. The deeper engagement was sacrificed for the easy distraction – what a pity!

Here a typical activity diagram for such a situation:

brainstorming-activity

In the first activity phase, participants find the obvious topics – the low hanging fruit. The first activity phase is followed by a phase of low writing activity but high brain activity. This phase is crucial for the identification of more revealing, creative, relevant, and understanding topics. This leads in most cases to more sticky notes.

However participants seek for shortening their brainwork – if consciously or not – the result is the same: Low hanging results with only little potential.

Unexperienced facilitators fall into this trap frequently by stopping the brainstorming when nobody writes anymore and all stare at them or in the air. Often they feel well because they increased the efficiency of the retro by saving a few minutes.

 

What are your experiences? Somebody knows more about the background? Please comment here.

 

Reanimating my blog

For almost two years, I neglected my blog. There were many reasons.

Now, I want to reanimate my blog. There are so many insights, adventures, stories, jokes to tell that cross my way.

Sources are teams that I accompany, colleagues I talk with, the community, other blog posts or tweets, and friends & family.

If you like it (or even when not), let me know. Retweet or forward my posts.

04.04.2014 | Even mammoths can be agile | Cluj-Napoca (Romania)

Reiner was invited as keynote speaker.

The topic: Slack is the ultimate weapon

Slack or free time is one of the main ingredients for obtaining improvements and innovation. But how to introduce slack in an environment where resource utilization ist a main KPI and managers measure progress by the amount of delivered features. Slack can result in a lot of positive effects – but slack is not for free. One is clear: successful organizations use slack.

http://colorsinprojects.ro/eveniment-cluj-4-5-aprilie-2014

Find the presentation here: 20140404 Slack is the ultimate Weapon – publish.pdf

Spam flood

During the last weeks, I realized an increasing number of spam posts to my blog.

Happy that I first have to approve every post, it costs me more and more time to check them. For that reason, I decided only to allow registered users to post articles and comments. If you want to contribute, please register.

Scrum Guide Game/Workshop

During a workshop with 8 team leads and managers, I realized that in general, they all had a certain knowledge about agile and Scrum but our discussions went around details of the Scrum Roles and Artifacts.

How can I help them to come to a better understanding? Teach them? Send them websites to read? No!

How about a game? Better. Or for those who don’t like games, a workshop.

What you need:

 

How to:

  • Split the team into 5 sub-teams if you have more than 5-6 participants
  • Give each one a copy of the Scrum Guide and Manifesto
  • Explain by yourself the first paragraphs (Purpose, Definition, Theory)
  • Let every team/participant pick a chapter or assign it. Maybe split the Events chapter in two parts – it is pretty long in comparison with the others. If the number of participants/teams is more than 6, let one read the Manifesto and the Principles.
  • Give them a timebox of 10 minutes to read, giving the information that later on they have to explain the essence of what they read to all others.
  • In the next timebox of 15-20 minutes let them visualize by filling flipcharts, whiteboard, or however they like it.
  • Give each participant/team another timebox of 5 minutes to present. It one can not end within the timebox, allow one more minute to finish. Not the timebox is the most important factor here, the information counts. Start with the Manifesto and its Principles and continue with the chapters according their order in the Scrum Guide.
  • Optional: After the presentation, the participants can discuss.

 

In this way, you can let them interactively update their knowledge and understanding about Scrum.

I played it once with a very positive feedback of the participants. I will try it in future with some more teams that show similar symptoms.

BTW, this game also can be played with other documents. I especially think of “Agile Manifesto” and “Kanban Properties and Principles”.

Pair Specifying

During a retrospective, I realized that the two internal customers of the team are not used to write epics and user stories, whereas the developers have some experience but still in some areas little business knowledge. Often ambiguous or unclear specifications hindered the team to start working.

Thinking of Pair Programming as an instrument to spread knowledge, to increase quality and structure, and to promote collaboration, the idea of applying similar practices to the creation of specifications appeared to be helpful.

The environment:

  • Development team consists of 5 developers (nice mix of work experience)
  • Two internal customers, one of them as Product Owner
  • Team applies Kanban (started some months ago)

My idea:

  • Whenever new features need to be specified, the internal customer “pairs” with a “random” developer. Over the time, every internal customer should have paired with every developer.
  • The developer brings in his knowledge and experience in writing epics and user stories.
  • The internal customer brings in the business expertise.
  • Like in Pair Programming, the work is done collaboratively.

 

The expected benefits:

  • Internal customers and developers get to know each other better through collaboration.
  • Knowledge is transferred in both directions.
  • The results (epics and stories) are already reviewed and potentially “Ready to start”.
  • Developers will better understand the business reason of a feature and the prioritization.
  • Developers can bring in their ideas in an early phase.

Overall, this approach seems to be worth to be tested with a small number of teams.

How do you think about this?

Welcome to my blog

Hi & welcome.
For a long time, I thought about having my own blog. But for what? For whom? How?

**For what?**
I was searching for a place to share information and to express my position on things that are interesting for me.
Out of the discussions, trainings, etc., I want to share resources, thoughts, ideas with others. In the history, I collected all this in my mail program.

** For whom?**
For colleagues, friends, my network & everybody interested in what I share.

**How?**
Still not so clear about this. I will start now and evolve during using the blog.

I highly appreciate any feedback.

Regards,
Reiner