When will it be done?

You have heard it before: “When will it be done?”

Earlier this year, I was coaching a team who frequently got this question from their product owner (PO). The PO was unhappy with the lead times, and wanted better predictability. The team didn’t really understand the problem, because most tasks were completed within just a few of days.

I analyzed the lead times together with the team, to try to uncover why the PO and the team viewed this so differently. The lead time was about 56 days in average, and out of this the response time was 36 days.

Working with the backlog had always been time consuming, and a subject of continuous reprioritization. The team therefore discussed a new strategy for maintaining the backlog with the PO. First they established an infinite backlog buffer (called “ideas”), where the PO could arrange and rearrange tasks as it pleased him. Then they agreed to limit the number of tasks allowed in the product backlog, and to replenish new tasks from the infinite buffer when needed.

Now, a few months later, the lead time is about 26 days, and the response time is down to 7 days. The PO is satisfied with the improved predictability. And as a bonus, the team doesn’t hear “when will it be done?” that often anymore.

Agile and congruent leadership

You’re a leader in your organization, and you want to improve efficiency. You think you want an “agile transformation”, because you heard others have been successful with it.

Then remember this:
Agile is not just a label you just put on the development department. Agile is a behavior and should affect everything you do.

So if you’re still up for the “agile transformation”, then it’s your job, as a leader, to do whatever is in your power to pave the way for every team, project or department, so that they can carry on with their agile transformation.

Start by truly understanding how agile works and how it affects the organization. Be congruent in actions and words. Ask for elements that are in harmony with agile. Don’t ask for reports, estimates or commitments from a bygone era, just so your way of reporting upwards in the organization is easier. Take that fight yourself. Show that you have confidence in your people. Give honest feedback.

Agile transformation is more than words, it’s behavior, and it affects the entire organization. Start by changing your own behavior.

Who’s your safety valve?

I love what I’m doing, I can actually be pretty passionate about things, and if I really believe in something my first instinct would be to let others know how this can make their lives, jobs, projects – you name it – better. But if you ask people I have worked with over the years, I guess they would characterize me as quite calm and diplomatic.

So how does these traits go along? In the beginning of my career I could burst out with things every now and then. Luckily no irreversible mistakes were made, but occasionally it was a bumpy ride. Now, even though my face might turn red, verbal and written outbursts are far less frequent – actually almost completely absent. I’m still passionate about things, but the difference is that now I have a safety valve.Outburst

My safety valve is a trusted person I can share my thoughts and ideas with. Even more important, I can share my frustrations openly with this person. When heated I use my safety valve to read through e-mails and documents before I fire off something I will later regret. The safety valve is most likely sitting somewhere nearby, and sometimes, depending on the situation, several people can act as my safety valve – maybe covering different areas.

Even though I have my safety valve right next to me, I always reflect a few seconds, on my own, before sharing my frustrations. I work with different customers and need to take confidentiality issues into consideration, so it’s not a given that everything can be shared with everyone. As the relationship with my safety valve develops there is room for discussing almost everything. To build a safety valve relationship, get comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas, before moving on to frustrations.

One last thing, the safety valve system works better if it’s bidirectional, so make sure both get the opportunity to vent. Call it bidirectional coaching, if you like.

Do you have a safety valve?