Make all work visible!

06 Oct

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 ubable to deliver value at the rate they thought they should.

During a retrospective we discussed why this should be, everyone was conforatble 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


Posted by on October 6, 2009 in Agile


4 responses to “Make all work visible!

  1. Kevin E. Schlabach

    October 7, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Very good idea and I’ve seen many teams do this… my only question is…

    Where was the scrum master in all of this? Did they notice this problem in advance?

    Maybe they did and helped the team realize this in the retrospective, but this is the kind of thing they should always be looking to understand throughout the sprint!

  2. Shane Hastie

    October 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks for the comment Kevin.

    The scrum master had seen the problem but was struggling with how to address it.

    We came to the “make all work visible” idea in the retrospective.

  3. James King

    October 8, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I really like the idea of adding the unplanned work under the line. It sounds like it presents the information clearly and also reminds the team that they are spending time on work outside the original plan.

    I use an “iteration contents” graph to show this separately (I got the idea from “Manage IT” by Johanna Rothman).

    This chart is good because you can show the percentage of time spent fixing bugs, doing production support, doing unplanned stories and working on the planned work. I find the chart very useful but it means the information is on a separate chart to the burn up chart.

    I might give your approach a go on my next project.

  4. Sharon Robson

    October 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I was recently talking to an agile team member who was struggling because he had been allocated to work on seven! (yes!! 7) projects at once. He was working nights and weekends – constantly! I asked him about “sustainable pace” – and he said that in EACH piece of work he was at a sustainable pace – but when they all added up – he was working way too hard! I think making all work visible is a great idea – I am going to recommend that he make his “other” commitments visible as well. what a great solution!


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