At our weekly meeting today, my team members had some interesting comments on what had gone wrong over the last week. Among other things, we had planned to work on two 2-point cards; we break up cards that are larger than that, and in the past even cards that size have been problematic. In this case, we didn’t finish (or even come particularly close) to finishing one of the cards, while we breezed through the other card.

In the case of the card that proceeded smoothly, we already had a very clear, eight-step list of the tasks involved in carrying out the card. Normally, one person owns a card from start to finish (frequently pairing with others while working on it, to be sure); in this case, however, the card was owned by three separate people, as our schedules changed. But, because of the clear task list, it was very easy to hand the card off: I was the first owner of the card, and my pair partner and I finished off the first task one morning; I was too busy with other work that afternoon to be able to continue working on it, and one of my team members had just finished his card, so I handed my card off to him. (And he later handed it off to somebody else, perhaps because the latter was working alone in the evening.) Also, while I don’t think we ended up working on tasks in parallel (I was out of the office in manager training most of the week), we would have been able to parallelize many (though not all) of them. This would have been really useful if, for example, we hadn’t gotten around to working on the card at all until the latter part of week: by then, we might not have had enough time to finish the card without parallelizing, but the task breakdown would have allowed us to deploy our resources more flexibly.

We made progress on the other card, but not nearly as much or as quickly. (To be sure, it may have actually been more complex than the first card, despite the fact that both were 2-point cards: the points are just estimates, after all.) Again, it would have been nice to have been able to hand off the card: the card’s owner had to work on something else (something came up that only he could do well: a sign that we still need a bit more knowledge transfer, but that’s another story, and one which we understand better), so it would have really helped if somebody else had been able to easily pick up the work. Unfortunately, the lack of a clear roadmap made that difficult to do. It also would have been nice if we’d been able to parallelize the work, as it became clear that it was a bit trickier than expected; again, doing so was impossible.

So we’ve renewed our agreement that, if possible, we should break up each card into tasks during our weekly planning meeting. And, if we don’t quite understand the details well enough to do so then, then the card owner’s first task should be to come up with an implementation plan which takes the form of a task list. I’m pretty sure this will help us going forward. So, even though we’re not shifting roles as frequently the people on the podcast I discussed last weekend, it does seem that behaving as if we wanted the capability to do so would have some real benefits.

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