An Agile world without dependencies would be a wonderful place. Each piece of work could be executed independently of any other, in any order. In a perfect world it all works out just like this.
But much as we would like it to be, it’s not always like that. Dependencies are real. For example: hardware might be required to provide the value the end-customer wants. And until it’s in place – either for development, or testing, or production – you just can’t create that value. Dependencies are especially common in large, distributed pieces of work where one team will depend on the work of another. Ignore them at your peril.
The board below is one of those situations. A large program of work spread across multiple teams, with dependencies between teams. Caleche Watson, the project manager on this team has mapped out the dependency using a piece of string, so its clear where it lies.
Teams which depend on each other need to talk a lot to keep in sync and ensure the best outcome overall. This piece of string makes obvious a conversation that needs to happen at their regular joint stand up. As Caleche said:
“At the end of the piece of string is a conversation”.
Spotted: Telstra Contact Solutions
When agile is working at scale, with multiple teams, there is usually a need to see progress through the work at different “zoom-levels”.
Most familiar is the story zoom-level: How are the stories progressing? Are they blocked? Why? How is the iteration progressing? Team boards, and team level hacks, help us to see these things change, and to understand how to improve.
At a higher zoom-level, the visibility needed is: How are multiple teams progressing through the larger pieces of work (we’ll call them features) which the stories are part of. So what we need to see is: When are they likely to finish this feature? What’s at risk? What’s blocking the team? Does the team need help?
This level of information is often represented on a program wall, which is a bit like a “zoomed-out” version of a team wall, showing the backlog of features to be delivered, cycle time across the whole program, and so on.
Here’s an example of a program wall. Each team is represented by a horizontal row and the columns are the iterations in which the teams expect each feature to finish.
The detail of how these features are tracking is found on the individual teams walls. But one team found a way to clearly summarise their progress on this wall too. They decided to stick burnups onto the front of each feature card. (A burnup is one of the most eloquent of board hacks as it provides a single view of scope and velocity, as both change).
You can see it a little better below:
So now, when you’re standing at the feature wall you can see the burnup for that feature, right on the front of the feature card without having to go and find the team wall. In this example, the feature is in the Iteration 12 column, but the burnup tells me it’s more likely to finish in the 14th iteration unless something changes – I smell risk! You can get a very rich sense of what’s going on, at a glance.
Spotted: Telstra Contact Solutions
This team wanted to track cycle time, and chose to do this by simply putting a dot on each card every day at standup. This way, you can count the dots on each card in the “done” pile at the end of the iteration (or any time), and understand average cycle time per card, or by point-size.
Cycle time for the story below is 6 days.
But this team took it a step further, colour-coding the dots by number of days in each process step. So, the card below spent 2 days in the backlog (green dots), then 3 days in build (red), and 2 days in test (black).
“Some of the cards had dots going all around the edge of the card!” says Gina. And sometimes the stories bounced back and forth between build and test (you would see this as alternating runs of red and black). Great fodder for retro.
Spotted: Telstra Contact Solutions, CCRI
Sometimes you just don’t have wall space. You may be at the mercy of the building police, who sternly forbid such outrageous acts as using blu-tac on a blank wall to boost productivity – or you may just be somewhere that doesn’t have walls, and you need to think and plan.
What do you do? You get opportunistic.
Here’s a few innovative boards we’ve seen around the traps:
Agilistas in an activity-based-workspace, who improvised with a shower curtain:
Spotted: Bankwest, Perth
Spotted: Lonely Planet
Horizontal board on a desk (we weren’t allowed to put anything on the walls) – with half-sized cards.
spotted: If we tell you, we’ll have to kill you
What have you seen used as a board?
Following on from the retro heat map, how about a standup heat map?
David Colls realised that his standup had become 2 separate conversations: the team’s shared conversation at standup had been lost. So he made a map of who spoke to whom at standup to show what was really going on. With the team currently working on 2 pieces of work which were not directly related to each other the dialogue was fragmenting. A good topic for retro?
No, that strapline is not missing an “e”.
We Agilistas navigate through our days using tons of post-it notes. You can always tell where the agile folks have been: they leave a trail of the things just like Hansel & Gretel. When you’re facilitating, or even thinking, they’re just too handy. They allow us to group ideas, to reposition them in relation to each other. We can use their colour and arrangement to help us see patterns in ideas. We can have everyone in the room contribute their own ideas, and then group and edit them as a team. What could be better?
Well…in some cases, this stuff. This turns any piece of paper into a post-it. You just smear a line of it onto a card or bit of paper and you can re-stick it and reposition it to your lil’ agile heart’s content.
So what? Well, it’s a lot neater and less splodgy than blu-tac, so it’s good for avatars and little badges which go onto the surface of index cards. Blu-tac often causes these smaller pieces of paper to warp. But it also lets you effectively create your own post-its. You can create post-its of different shapes, where the shapes are meaningful for your team. They could have templates on them for key terms, or story numbers, or, or… anything!
You could get it here, for example.
No, it’s not for planning your iteration in the shower. Sorry.
Sometimes, you just can’t get to the walls. Maybe the building police won’t let you put anything on the walls. Maybe there just isn’t the space, or your team isn’t located adjacent to a wall. Portable whiteboards, which are the usual guerilla weapon of choice in this situation, can block lines of sight and available light. And sometimes they get the building police excited, too.
One team decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own Shower Scene. The cards fit into little pockets designed into the shower curtain. Note the little suckers at the top which allow you to stick it up on any smooth surface.
Just one supplier for this product (shop around, people, and let us know where the bargains are!).
Spotted: Bankwest, Perth
Turn any wall into a whiteboard! This stuff is the bomb.
I haven’t used this brand before, but there are a few variants on the market. Once you get over your fear of writing directly on the wall, being able to write anywhere is very liberating.
At Lonely Planet, there was a team war-room where all the walls were painted with whiteboard paint. The kind we had wrote well, and erased well too. For a while, we had an entire business case sketched up on the wall and stakeholders could come and talk through the whole thing. We could change the slides right there on the wall, on the fly. A great place for thinking. Look out though, your wall is going to look like this in no time!
Here is another brand.
Special props to Nigel Dalton and Gus Balbontin on this one.
Here are some interesting facts* about (lack of) sleep that you may not know:
- seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%.
- a new baby typically results in 400-750 hours lost sleep for parents in the first year.
- it’s impossible to tell if someone is really awake without close medical supervision. People can take cat naps with their eyes open without even being aware of it.
How does that affect you at work? My mate Dave knew it affected him badly, so he came up with this visual hack to let people know how he was feeling. He says:
“We’d just had Hamish, and were in the sleeplessness death zone a lot of the time. But at work we were in the crucial months of getting data ready for a new site, and I was the go-to guy for a whole bunch of content things. Some days I was capable of rational thought and decision-making; others, not so much. So this meter helped give people a kind of reliability quotient for anything I said that day.”
Thanks to David Burnett for this hack.
*Source: The National Sleep Research Project via abc.net.au