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Avoid the Agile Logjam

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Not all Agile teams are created equal.

Some commit to their work and complete requirements throughout -- not just at the end.

Other teams struggle. Their sub-tasks may make progress, but their overall requirements or "stories," which express requirements in ways that customers can relate to, seem to get stuck. They finish on the last day of the iteration, if at all.

What makes these teams different?

Often requirements haven't been sub-divided. Queuing theory teaches that the same amount of work divided into smaller pieces flows faster. Teams with stories divided into work durations of one to three days see their work fly through the system. They can finish some requirements and then pick more.
Teams with stories that take a week or more are at risk of a traffic jam. Moreover, we're less aware of the delay until later -- when it's harder to take corrective action.
One correction is to refocus on a smaller number of requirements, but dedicate to finishing those. Another method is to split a story, even though the iteration is underway. Or, remove a story from the current iteration so it can be fully completed in another.
If none of these ideas seem enough, make sure the team is committed. Per the principles in the Agile Manifesto, team members need to self-organize to dedicate themselves to finishing whatever work is planned.

How have you avoided Agile traffic jams in your projects? Has splitting stories to a manageable size helped avoid bottlenecks?


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Splitting stories definitely helps, but so does better collaboration between the team and product owner/manager. Teams need to be better prepared for planning meetings and be dedicated to working on user stories together.

I highly recommend that members from the team (a UX person, two developers, tester) meet with the product owner or manager in something we call a "three amigos meeting."

This meeting is intended to bring the three amigos - or readiness team - together to collaborate on user stories. As a product owner, I see this team and meeting as a blessing. It allows team members with different backgrounds and skills to work together to get stories where they need to be - revising acceptance criteria, splitting stories, or de-prioritizing them are some possible results of the readiness team's work.

Agreed: Smaller stories flow faster.

As to story size and queuing theory, we have similar guidance from "bin packing" theory, and the Theory of Constraints (TOC) teaches us to reduce "batch size" -- as demonstrated in the late Eli Goldratt's book, The Goal, and his many marvelous works...great reads!

Ken 'classmaker' Ritchie (CSM, PMP, Agile coach)

Splitting tasks to smaller manageable chunks, commitment of team and regular review of the progress (not micromanagement or pestering the team) works best for me.

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