Development Iteration

Jeff Langr and Tim Ottinger
Font: Brown Bag Lunch

These half-dozen items provide the core set of principles around the iteration workflow for delivering stories to an eager customer. (Most of the principles would also apply to a kanban environment, with a bit of tweaking.)

Team commits to stories they can complete. Each iteration begins with a short planning session. The primary goal of this session is to ensure that the development team (hereafter "the team" in this blog post) and customer are in sync on what the team will deliver by iteration end. The customer and team jointly produce acceptance criteria that act as the contract for completion. The team commits to only the set of stories they can confidently deliver by iteration end. The workload is thus fixed for the duration of the iteration, although the customer can negotiate a change to the workload with the team. Hopefully this occurs only rarely, and hopefully the team has the sense to insist on work being taken off the iteration's plate.

Team works stories from prioritized card wall. The customer is responsible for managing the flow of work. Their job is to ensure that available stories are presented in priority order. Available developers grab the card with highest priority and move it into an "in progress" bucket. The card wall, whether real or virtual, is visible to everyone involved in the project.

Team minimizes stories in process. Applying non-collaborative approaches to agile asks for the same, lame results you got from waterfall. A typical anti-pattern we've seen (we'll call it "Indivigile"): Every story is close to a full iteration in size, and each developer grabs their "own" story to work on. So much for any of the significant benefits that you might have gained from collaboration (primarily better solutions, increased mindshare, and thus minimized risk). Worse, you dramatically increase the probability that stories will not be delivered by iteration end. A better approach: Team members work on the smallest sensible number of stories at one time, maximizing collaboration and ensuring that each story is truly done before moving on to the next.
Following this approach, you should see almost half of the committed stories 100% complete by midway through the iteration. Overall, the number of stories fully complete by iteration end should increase. Also, many activities that would have otherwise been blocked until iteration end can start earlier (additional testing, clarification/correction, documentation, etc.).

Team collaborates daily. A daily stand-up meeting is a good start for getting the team on the same page, but never sufficient. If the stories-in-process are few, the team must find ways to collaborate frequently throughout each day, to avoid wasting additional time.

Customer accepts only completed stories. Stories must pass all programmer and acceptance tests before the customer looks at the the software. The customer needs to play hard-ball at this point: Any story shy of 100% passing gets the team zero credit: Incomplete work provides no business value. The lesson for the team to learn (and apply in subsequent iterations) is to not over-commit.

Team reflects on iteration and commits to improvements. Agile is built around frequent incremental delivery, in order to maximize feedback, which in turn provides opportunities to improve. Iterations are not only opportunity points to improve the product, but also for the team to reflect on what the team needs to change, whether to improve quality, throughput (which improving quality will do), team morale, or any other execution concerns that the team recognizes. See our Retrospectives card for guidance on this critical agile practice.

Everything else that happens with respect to iteration execution is "implementation details," and thus up to your team to determine. We don't care if you use software tools or physical card walls. We don't care if your team is distributed, whether you run a formal stand-up meeting, whether you use velocity, planning poker, load factors, yesterday's weather, Scrum Master whip cracking, or any other specific practices for planning and organization. All is generally good as long as you adhere to the above principles for flowing work.

1 comment:

  1. "Team minimizes stories in process" - your write-up is a nice idea for the ideal team - unfortunately human reality gets in the way - some folks will just let their pair or the rest of the team do all the work just like they did with the group project thing back in college - I think some individual ownership needs to be retained - this doesn't mean we don't help each other


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