Once upon a time, there were some metrics…
I did have a chance to work in a team once where estimation was very popular. So was the delay in many projects. I think some of them are still not finished because people are still estimating… Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are some small amount of really good teams which can give you an estimate, and its almost all the time right. But 5 points from my perspective can become 20 points from yours. What is the worst that can happen? The deadline becomes a sad line that keeps moving further and further away.
Unlike the picture, forecasting is a much better approach. Imagine you drive a car in London, and you don’t know every single street (just like me) and you use navigation that helps you to find the fastest route. You get onto N406 and bang! Traffic jam. You see the sign that follows to the city center and you make a decision to follow it and see what happens next, maybe it will be faster? Your navigation doesn't just show the old route, it recalculates so it can give you the new best forecast when you will arrive at your destination. The weather. I like that. The app gives you a forecast every hour! In the morning it showed it would not rain in the afternoon, but at noon it says it will be pouring down — 90% chance! Forecasts give you a better chance of having difficult conversations about when something will get delivered. Instead of making up some sort of numbers you actually use your historical data. Why is it good? Well to start with you already have included all sorts of scenarios such as someone being ill or on holiday, stories that took months to deliver, short stories that were easy, unknowns— all that is in your throughput already. Unless you deliver every week the same amount of tickets right on spot then there might be some surprises down the line! But overall everything is already counted in, therefore it gives you a better understanding of what the future holds.
How many did we do again this week..?
Throughput is the main thing that will contribute to your predictable metrics of how much you will deliver in the future. Monte Carlo simulation runs all your data through to understand what could be delivered in the future. People think to batch it up crazy — so the future results will show more items that can be delivered. But that is the opposite. You batch up once in a while and maybe deliver 5 items, but for days you don’t deliver anything. So what do you think Monte Carlo will show you? Very low numbers indeed. The key to success is small sizes, small deliverables preferably Every Day! It makes more sense that you deliver tickets every day even if it's only one rather than 5 once in 2 weeks.
The frequency of days plays a big role in this. Small batch sizes. Concentrate on the right-hand side of your board. Make things leave the system. Get fast feedback. Iterate on that. Somebody very important is waiting for new features and fixes. They don’t really care what is your internal process to get something out. But you should care how quickly can you get something out. Be first. Win. Otherwise, someone else will beat you.
Did you ever have that conversation — so how long it would take to deliver this if you would start today? A million years! Ha, when we talk about when something will be finished we look at our lead time and see how long something takes to go from our commitment point to making that available for the real participants. I was made to believe that the best option here is to use the confidence levels and suggest that under 85% confidence level it will take that many days or less to deliver the item. Why 85%? Well, let's be honest 50/50 chance I don’t think gives a lot of confidence to stakeholders. And 95% is really a stretch and we know that not many items go over our confidence level. So 85% is a sweet spot plus in managing the language well you can always say — but there is 15% chance something can go wrong.
Continuously look for ways to improve lead time. Get more collaboration, new ways of working so you can get that number lower, that means your stakeholders happier, smaller batch sizes, more delivered, faster feedback, and potentially happier customers too!
I can’t stress this enough, but balancing your work is something! Focus focus focus. How to achieve that? Have less on the board. Remove the noise. Understand how many items leave the system before you bring anything new in. Watch out for long-winded stories that don’t move. Less is more! Slow is smooth — smooth is fast! Try it, really, it does help.
Let it Flow!
Looks like this guy is not getting home any time soon! Flow is very undervalued. It seems like it doesn’t even matter. But think about it — if something doesn’t move — there is highly likely you have some sort of a problem. You can spot these slow-motion tickets easily when your WIP is low. Or when you look at your flow efficiency and it starts to dip. Or the best to use aging item dashboard to see which ticket is sitting in the column for 10 days and doesn’t move! Tickets sitting in ‘done’ column is an absolute waste of time. Nothing happens in done column. Nobody works on it. Pull items as soon as you can. If there is no one to pull — then consider, do you have too much work by any chance in your system? Don’t block the ticket by holding them somewhere in the process. Let it go. Let it Flow. That is the only way it will get done and other items can come in. First in — first out basis. The board should tell you what to work on next. Where to look for work. If it doesn’t, maybe you need a different process? Or perhaps you could talk to your team and get ideas on what to do next? Communication is underestimated too!
Anyway, who cares..?
Who can’t wait for new features and fixes? — your dear customers! They don’t care what is your process. They want a finished product and basically have it yesterday. We spend a lot of time refining work, talking about it, but very often forget why are we even doing this. Shared understanding is the key to getting things right. When you communicate try really hard to get your idea across. In these weird virtual times it is even harder to explain yourself, but don’t give up, keep going till everyone is on the same page. Clarify things. Ask questions! Give space for other people to express themselves. That is a secret to get a shared understanding. Putting everything on the table so you can step in someone else's shoes and understand where their reasoning is coming from. We do talk about communication. But I do believe it's one thing that needs to be improved continuously.
We often think that we do the right thing. And we do assume a lot too. Let's talk about it instead and get things clear sooner than later. With current circumstances, it feels like the right thing to do. Establish focus and build shared understanding. Explain your reasoning. And get things moving. Success depends on you.