There is one problem that I come across regularly when working with agile teams. Often there is a need or desire to deliver too much!
We can’t always ‘reach for the stars’.
This pressure can mean that delivery teams can lose sight of their achievements. When your backlog column never goes down it’s hard to see the features your working on as ‘Done’!
In an ideal world we would complete every task every sprint but more often than not we ‘bite off more than we can chew’ even before we start our sprint.
One of the reasons this sometimes happens is that Product Managers want to say ‘it’s in the current sprint’ to their stakeholders while quietly winking to the team and saying ‘I know we can’t do it in one sprint’. While it may feel good to aim high and reach for the stars; after a while this way of working erodes trust.
Not only does the team get burnt out but your stakeholders start expecting less and less from you each sprint.
Eventually your stakeholders or business sponsors won’t even rely on what you say at all! One minute you’re having open and honest conversations and the next you will be sent a gantt chart and a project plan that doesn’t look anything like your roadmap. All because they stopped trusting your sprint planning.
Often we work in complicated environments and we know there won’t be less work over the hill and a lot of the time there are multiple ‘number one’ priorities. So…
If the amount of work isn’t going down then what can we do?
There isn’t an easy solution to these issues. It requires work from every member of the team. I’ve outlined a couple of suggestions below:
Product Managers: Always be honest with your team members and stakeholders. If you’re having to put pressure on the team to deliver tell them why. Most teams can handle the occasional intense sprint and will appreciate you being open with them.
Team Members: Push back and say no! If you are adamant that something cannot be done say it. A lot of the time I see developers grimace slightly and say ‘I’ll see what I can do’. This attitude just makes the rest of the sprint feel like a funeral march to the inevitable retro when we look at the large number of tickets that weren’t delivered.
Stakeholders and Business Sponsors: Prioritise effectively and understand that not everything can be number one! Be accepting if something moves to the right and work with the team to understand why.
Delivery Managers: Build an open team culture where people are comfortable with saying what they feel. The more open and honest everyone is the better sprint planning will be.
Of course none of these things will be a silver bullet to more accurate sprint planning or dealing with an ever growing backlog but it might make a couple of things better for you.
Let me know your thoughts or share any times where you have felt like you had to deliver too much!