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.

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