Some people think agile means they don’t have to plan. They use agile as an excuse for not knowing how big something is, how long it will take, or when it will be done. They feel they don’t have to be accountable for planning or scheduling. Additionally, VPs often assume their agile teams know what they want from them, but they don’t. In this post, I’ll explore what agile teams should deliver for their management, and how teams and management should have the conversation. We will discuss predictability at the sprint and roadmap level, time to market and early ROI in upstream and downstream activities, transparency, and quality.
Almost every team I’ve ever seen has needed to plan. They have a roadmap. They’ve made promises to customers, to other groups, or to sales people. There needs to be planning even in a situation in which the product can be or needs to be very reactionary. Such a group would need to plan their technology refreshes, or updates, or tech debt reduction.
There are two levels of predictability that I have in mind here, and that’s predictability at the sprint level and at the roadmap level. Depending on the size and time horizon of your roadmap, there might be monthly, quarterly, and half-year predictability, but that builds on the fundamentals and is beyond the scope of my present focus.
At the sprint level, if you put something in a sprint, you need to get it done. You need to call your shots. Do what you say you are going to do. Build trust. Set the expectations with your management, and as part of the Kanban Method, negotiate SLAs with your upstream and downstream partners. That goes beyond this one point here, but what I have in mind is that a team should complete 95% to 105% of their planned points, planned stories, planned work items, or planned whatever. When first putting this in place, I might start off with a more lenient range, say 80-120%, but have a plan to narrow the range.
This is a key agile team metric. Tool that up. For a very long time I’ve done that in a spreadsheet just because I don’t see ALM tools provide this. With ConnectALL, you can bring the data from all your tools into a single place and make a custom dashboard.
That metric might not be suitable if your product owner and team work well with sprint goals and if the work is more on the research and experimentation side of things. In that case, make the goal more important than the stories, but complete the goal. Every sprint.
Agile does not mean that you don’t have to plan. You do. Companies need their teams to hold themselves accountable, to do what they say they’ll do, and to be predictable.Andrew Fuqua, VP of Products, ConnectALL
Time to Market
It goes without saying that every company out there needs fast time to market to become or to stay competitive. Whatever you call it, a short lead time, early ROI, fast ROI or whatever, time to market is crucial. Measure it. And measure its constituent pieces. By that I mean each wait state or queue in which the work is stopped, and each value added state. Do this at each level, such as epics and stories; and at each stage, such as the up front work to make epics and stories ready for engineering consumption. Measure your test cycles and deployment process and wait states all along. Compute your Process Cycle Efficiency if you want, but you’ll need to graph the individual components in order to manage it and improve.For this, many organizations I’ve worked with have multiple tools involved. They have a requirements tool, an agile sprint planning and tracking tool, maybe even a testing tool to track regression test plans or testing charters, and a multitude of DevOps tools on down the line. ConnectALL’s integration platform brings all these pieces of your tool chain together so that you can have visibility into progress across the tools and the ability to capture and report on metrics as well.
The DevOps culture is one of transparency and openness. Continuous Improvement or Kaizen requires transparency. Therefore, Management, Product Management, Project Management and everyone else needs visibility into the process as well as into the progress of the work.
Speaking of visibility, the ability to see where the work is in the value stream, across all the tools in your tool chain, is crucial to building trust and managing predictability and lead time. Once again, this is ConnectALL’s sweet spot.
Quality is just a given. It’s a prerequisite. You can’t have predictability or short lead times if your quality is bad. Of course, I’m talking about internal quality, software craftsmanship, and mailability, as well as external quality as perceived by customers.
How do you know if this is really what your management team needs? Go and ask. Seek confirmation. You might get different answers from your different levels of management, and some might not be aware that this really is valuable to them. They haven’t thought about it, probably because they are too busy fighting fires because of poor quality, lack of visibility, lack of progress, or lack of predictability. If nothing else, they may be using different terminology. How it manifests in your organization matters. You’ll have to have multiple conversations.
This is important. Agile does not mean that you don’t have to plan. You do. Companies need their teams to hold themselves accountable, to do what they say they’ll do, and to be predictable. Leadership is needed at all levels. Management needs to allocate time to work on the business (instead of only working in the business). And they need to clearly articulate what they need from their agile teams.
Andrew Fuqua is the ConnectALL SVP of Products. He joined ConnectALL after a long-standing career as an Enterprise Transformation Consultant. Andrew has an extensive career of 30 plus years of varied experience — held positions in consulting, management, product management, and development. Andrew is an active contributor to the Agile community, an established speaker, influencer and a published author.