Lots of carryover? Try swarming

July 16, 2014 Susan Evans

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Scrum teams are made up of individuals with cross functional skills that commit to completing the sprint backlog as a team. Instead of a traditional Project Manager assigning tasks, the team decides how they are going to get the work done and individuals choose or sign up for the work they want to do.

If on sprint planning day, the team determines the owner for every task, then it’s very easy for our introverted development teams to go heads down at their desk and only focus on their personal ‘to do’ list. Even though they are having a daily stand up, if they are not truly paying attention to how the team as a whole is tracking according to their plan, then teams can end their sprint with several backlog items partially completed. The team has to own up to the stakeholders during the sprint demo that they didn’t meet their commitment and that walk of shame is no fun. Plus, a backlog item that is 90% complete does not make the company money so the team discusses in the retrospective how to prevent that from happening again.

I would challenge a team who finds themselves in this situation to no longer determine the owner of tasks on sprint planning day. Instead, allow team members to sign up for a task daily throughout the sprint following the swarming approach. Like when worker bees swarm together to build a new hive, teams should swarm together to work down the prioritized sprint backlog. On the first day of the sprint, the team should put only the top backlog item in progress until it meets the definition of done. Once the top backlog item is done, then the next backlog item in the list can be put into progress. Based on the size and skill sets of the team, they may find that their WIP limit is two to make sure everyone has a task on the first day of the sprint. To help enforce this, the team can set a WIP limit of one or two on the ‘In Progress’ column of their story board. This focus will:

  • Keep the team working together closely and will result in less context switching
  • Keep the intensity level high on getting impediments resolved ASAP
  • Forces the team to test early in the sprint instead of it becoming a bottleneck at the end
  • Product Owner can provide feedback, verify and accept a backlog item early in the sprint instead of on the last day

The Product Owner who has three backlog items done and accepted feels a lot better than the Product Owner who only has seven items that are 90% complete.

 

About the Author

Susan Evans

Susan Evans is an agile consultant at VersionOne. Prior to joining the company, she was an internal coach who optimized the usage of the VersionOne platform to help many non-collocated teams thrive in their agile processes. Susan focuses on enhancing team relationships, communication skills, conflict resolution, and processes to help create happy teams that deliver high quality.

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