Agile Metrics – Time (Part 2 of 3)
In Part 1 of this series, we set the frame for how to use time as a metric for assessing Agile team and project health. In Part 2, we’ll look at shifts in the cross-over point between burn-down and burn-up charts and explore what issues may be in play for the teams under these circumstances.
Figure 1 shows a cross-over point occurring early in the sprint.
This suggests the following questions:
- Is the team working longer hours than needed? If so, what is driving this effort? Are any of the team members struggling with personal problems that have them working longer hours? Are they worried they may have committed to more work than they can complete in the sprint and are therefore trying to stay ahead of the work load? Has someone from outside the team requested additional work outside the awareness of the product owner or scrum master?
- Has the team over estimated the level of effort needed to complete the cards committed to the sprint? If so, this suggests an opportunity to coach the team on ways to improve their estimating or the quality of the story cards.
- Has the team focused on the easy story cards early in the sprint and work on the more difficult story cards is pending? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to know and be aware of after confirming this with the team. If accurate, it also points out the importance of using this type of metric for intra-sprint monitoring only and not extrapolate what it shows to a project-level metric.
The answer to these questions may not become apparent until later in the sprint and the point isn’t to try and “correct” the work flow based on relatively little information. In the case of Figure 1, the “easy” cards had been sized as being more difficult than they actually were. The more difficult cards were sized too small and a number of key dependencies were not identified prior to the sprint planning session. This is reflected in the burn-up line that significantly exceeds the initial estimate for the sprint, the jumps in the burn-down line, and subsequent failure to complete a significant portion of the cards in the sprint backlog. All good fodder for the retrospective.
Figure 2 shows a cross-over point occurring late in the sprint.
On the face of it there are two significant stretches of inactivity. Unless you’re dealing with a blatantly apathetic team, there is undoubtedly some sort of activity going on. It’s just not being reflected in the work records. The task is to find out what that activity is and how to mitigate it.
The following questions will help expose the cause for the extended periods of apparent inactivity:
- Are one or more members not feeling well or are there other personal issues impacting an individual’s ability to focus?
- Have they been poached by another project to work on some pressing issue?
- Are they waiting for feedback from stakeholders, clients, or other team members?
- Are the story cards unclear? As the saying goes, story cards are an invitation to a conversation. If a story card is confusing, contradictory, or unclear than the team needs to talk about that. What’s unclear? Where’s the contradiction? As my college calculus professor used to ask when teaching us how to solve math problems, “Where’s the source of the agony?”
The actual reasons behind Figure 2 were two fold. There was a significant technical challenge the developers had to resolve that wasn’t sufficiently described by any of the cards in the sprint and later in the sprint several key resources were pulled off the project to deal with issues on a separate project.
Figure 3 shows a similar case of a late sprint cross-over in the burn-down/burn-up chart. The reasons for this occurrence were quite different than those shown in Figure 2.
This was an early sprint and a combination of design and technical challenges were not as well understood as originally thought at the sprint planning session. As these issues emerged, additional cards were created in the product backlog to be address in future sprints. Nonetheless, the current sprint commitment was missed by a significant margin.
In Part 3, we’ll look at other asymmetries and anomalies that can appear in time burn-down/burn-up charts and explore the issues may be in play for the teams under these circumstances.