De investering voor deze training is Euro 2495, – ex BTW en Euro 2095, – ex BTW voor vroege vogels tot 1 maand voor de start. De prijzen zijn inclusief trainingsmateriaal en voor alle dagen lunch en koffie, drankjes en versnaperingen gedurende de dag.

Meer informatie over deze training

De investering voor deze training is Euro 2495, – ex BTW en Euro 2095, – ex BTW voor vroege vogels tot 1 maand voor de start. De prijzen zijn inclusief trainingsmateriaal en voor alle dagen lunch en koffie, drankjes en versnaperingen gedurende de dag.

Meer informatie over deze training

De investering voor deze training is Euro 2495, – ex BTW en Euro 2095, – ex BTW voor vroege vogels tot 1 maand voor de start. De prijzen zijn inclusief trainingsmateriaal en voor alle dagen lunch en koffie, drankjes en versnaperingen gedurende de dag.

Meer informatie over deze training

The sixth blog, in a blog series about the upcoming book: Creating Agile Organizations – A Systemic Approach, by Cesario Ramos & Ilia Pavlichenko.

A successful team works together towards serving the business goals. The team skills required to do that are always changing. For example, a top technology at the moment will likely not be so in a couple of years. New technologies emerge, and your product groups need to acquire a deep understanding of them to stay competitive. To adapt to this changing world, people who frequently learn a deep understanding of new areas are the standard rather than the exception.

Multi-Functional Learning Impacts Agility

When an Agile team preserves the goal of maximizing utilization of single skill specialties, it has multiple implicit backlogs, not one. Multiple implicit backlogs in a team with interdependent tasks, which is mostly the case in product development, leads to a serialization of the team’s work, which increases the end-to-end time to get it done. The typical phrase you can hear is, “I will do this task because I can do this most efficiently.” A focus on individual skills also forces the business to change the order of the product backlog to ensure there are tasks for each individual’s single specialty. Thus, the team doesn’t work on the most critical features from a customer perspective and sub-optimize value delivery.

Another strategy to optimize individual performance would be to introduce more team backlogs for the same product, then teams tend to focus on a part of the whole product and become less cross-functional as Figure 1 illustrates. That inevitably leads to artificial dependencies and even longer lead times.

Figure 1Feature dependencies between teams

Teams working on their own team backlog have a narrow view of the whole product and do not realize when they are working on low value work from a customer perspective.

Working from a single product backlog creates an inevitable knowledge gap in single-skilled team members. The larger the knowledge gap, the more need for the developers to work together and help others in the team acquire additional skills. Over time, team members develop secondary or even tertiary skills and become multi-skilled specialists.

We often hear the argument: “We understand the idea behind that. But still, a deep specialist will be more effective and knowledgeable than a cross-trained one”. And we agree with the argument. But Agile organizations do not train people to create efficient resources. Instead, they form teams capable of embracing change and minimizing bottlenecks. 

This ability of autonomous teams to align resources to bottlenecks is extremely important because it minimizes queues in the development process. Since these bottlenecks can shift rapidly and unpredictably during a program, the flexibility of team members to work outside of speciality is a critical tool for dealing with such bottlenecks (Donald G. Reinertsen, Managing the Design Factory)

When the system is heavily loaded, even a small change in capacity can lead to a significant difference in cycle time. 

What can you do to help the organization?

  1. Prefer a cross-functional line manager that focuses on the whole team

Typical organizational design encourages people to grow in narrow, single-skill career paths, optimizing the performance of individuals, not necessarily the performance of the team they work in. For instance, in one setting the chapter leads acted as line managers towards their people and were responsible for appraisals and people development. There were chapter leads for technologies like Java or UX, and their goal was to help people develop in that specific skill. 

So, instead of having single-skill line managers focusing on individual performances, prefer a cross-functional line manager that focuses on the whole team.

Such a design should lead to:

  • Instead of having single-skill line managers focusing on individual performances, prefer a cross-functional line manager who focuses on the whole team.
  • Cross-functional line managers—without any authority to give work to the teams—should focus on improving the organizational design and team effectiveness. They also help individuals to develop in service of overall team performance. 
  • Expert leads (otherwise regular team members) who facilitate the development of employees. These individuals have no HR responsibility or authority for giving work to the teams.
  1. Create a System of Human Operations to Support Multi-skilled Specialists

Ideally, you would have people in your teams that are experts in multiple skills, but unfortunately, these people are hard to find. However, what you can do is create the conditions that encourage people to develop into multi-skilled specialists over time.

Therefore, create a system of human operations that:

  • Values employees by a combination of personal and team accomplishments.
  • Values people to become multi-skilled specialists.
  • Values a balance between deep specialists and generalists in the teams.

An organization can do that by creating a multi-skilled growth system that allows people to create their own job paths. Figure 2 shows a general value system.

Figure 2Multi skilled value system

The exact skills needed within a team change over time, so the specific skills are better not fixed. Also, the exact balance between deep specialists and generalists depends upon the team context and the required skills to develop the product. Therefore, the human operations systems let the teams figure out:

  • What is the best balance?
  • Which team members develop what skills?

The teams have the responsibility to ensure that they grow into effective Agile teams, and the management is there to support them in doing so.

Summary

Working from a single product backlog creates an inevitable knowledge gap in single-skilled team members. Over time, team members develop secondary or even tertiary skills and become multi-skilled specialists. On an organizational level introduce cross-functional managers that focus on the whole team development. Also you need to create a system of human operations that supports multi-skilled specialists.

In our next two blog posts, we give an overview of:

  • Guiding the teams in multi-skill development
  • Transitioning to the Product Owner at scale

The fifth blog, in a blog series about the upcoming book: Creating Agile Organizations – A Systemic Approach, by Cesario Ramos & Ilia Pavlichenko.

Blog post How You Can Define Your Product Group described how to create an initial definition of the product by examining organizational functions and components and considering their dependency types. In this blog, we build on that discussion and consider how to launch the product group into its first iteration successfully. 

Typical adoption steps

Agile adoption has so many variables, parallel activities, paths, and feedback loops that it is impossible to create a detailed plan upfront. This does not mean that planning is a futile task; instead, it is simply an activity that needs to be repeated. So plan to replan! Figure 1 illustrates a typical sequence of steps we take to launch the adoption.

Adoption phases

Figure 1: Typical adoption steps

It can take a few weeks to a few months to get from the first meeting with management until the first product group launch. The reason is that the people involved need to participate in the preparation while doing their usual jobs. If you can halt the people’s work, you could probably finish the whole preparation within two weeks.

Why not longer than a few months? From experience, we have learned that overly long preparation drains too much energy, resulting in people losing enthusiasm and their impulse for a change. Also, all the time spent in preparation meetings is time that the group is not learning anything in practice. After the product group launch, the focus turns to supporting the teams and product ownership in the new way of working.

Product Group Launch Activities

Once you have identified the teams that make up your product group, many activities might be required to launch your product group in your specific context. Below you can find a minimal list of actions and workshops that might be helpful (in the book, we provide a more extensive list). Use the ones that fit your particular context.

  • Initial Product Backlog Refinement: The initial set of features to start the first Sprints.
  • Define the Definition of Done (DoD): Everything a team has to do to a feature so that the product is ready for delivery to end-users with the new feature added to it.
  • Feature Team Adoption Map (FTAM): Align on the feature team adoption first step and potential next steps toward the perfect cross-functional team.
  • Self-Designing Team workshop: Facilitate a Self-Designing Team workshop where people volunteer to be part of a team.
  • Team lift-off: Facilitate lift-off workshops to lay a solid foundation for team identity and success.
  • Identify coordination mechanisms: With the elimination of single-function teams, which coordination mechanisms are required?

From our perspective, the following items make up the Minimum Viable Launch (MVL):

  • Create the product DoD
  • FTAM workshop
  • Self-Designing Team workshop
  • Team lift-off

You might consider running other activities after the launch—for instance, during regular Sprint Retrospectives or at the first Sprint Planning; This is perfectly okay. For a small product group with three to five teams, you can even exclude the FTAM step if teams can work across the whole product right from the start.

In the book, we provide examples and facilitation guides for each of these workshops. In this blog, we share an excerpt from the Create the product DoD workshop

Define the Definition of Done

Scrum teams use the DoD to create a shared understanding of which work was completed in each Sprint. As Mr. Ken Schwaber once taught us: Done means that there is nothing left to be done. Elements of the DoD should be measurable and binary (yes/no). You can’t be 80% done; Scrum treats such partial completion as 0%. The Scrum Guide explains:

The Definition of Done is a formal description of the state of the Increment when it meets the quality measures required for the product. (The Scrum Guide. https://scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2020/2020-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf.)

The DoD includes measurable properties of the Increment. It is assured through activities, and execution is up to the developers. When your whole organization is just one cross-functional team, then there are no other options but for the team to perform all those activities themselves.

Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint. (The Scrum Guide. https://scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2020/2020-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf.)

Problems usually start when teams lack cross-functionality, which happens when organizations create teams around internal business processes, architectural components, and functions to achieve team efficiency. For simplicity, we call such teams “component teams.”

Let’s have a look at the situation when multiple component teams are working on the same product. Each team performs only a subset—their product-part DoD—of the broader product DoD. Figure 2 shows an example.

Product Definition Of Done

Figure 2: Product Definition of Done.

A component team that is organized around an internal business process or an architectural component considers “done” to have been reached when “their” component is tested—but that is not done at the product level! What remains are all the activities in the “undone” subset that still need to be performed.

The smaller the set of DoD activities that a component team performs, the more issues that will appear at the product level—for example, delays, handoffs between teams, and opaque measures of progress. The more component teams that are working on your product, the more partially done work that is created, and the higher the risk of running into unpleasant surprises later on becomes. To avoid this fate, when you develop one product with many teams, there should be a single, integrated increment by the end of each Sprint and a single, shared DoD.

Each component team needs to master all of the activities to produce a usable increment every iteration. This is not a trivial task and can take many years, if it is even at all possible in your specific context.

A Definition of Done Workshop

For this workshop, you need to have your product definition settled. How to define your product is described in Chapter 8, “Preparing the Product Group.”

Participants

Invite the teams, people in coordination roles, product management, and other specialists that your product definition says are required. Consider adding sales, marketing, and general management participants as needed. The canvas illustrated in Figure 3 proposes a couple of sections for the teams to explore DoD activities. Adjust the sections as necessary to fit your specific context.

Definition Of Done Canvas

Figure 3: Definition of Done (DoD) canvas.

Structuring the Invitation

The goal is to define the activities that need to be completed so that there is no known work left to be done—the product DoD. We use the following questions:

  • What do we need to do so that the product is in the hands of the stakeholders according to company standards, policy, and regulations?
  • How shall we measure and make sure that each item in the DoD is done?

The second question focuses the teams on the measures; otherwise, you might end up with a list of aspirations that never come to life.

Example for Running the Workshop

Step 1. Each team/table group plots their current DoD on their canvas using sticky notes. Generate the DoD list of activities and corresponding measures. First, work in pairs for 5–10 minutes; then consolidate the results onto the group canvas.

Step 2. Compare across the groups, using a diverge–merge technique, UX Fishbowl, or the Shift and Share liberating structure to enrich each group’s canvas. Ask the teams to update their canvas based on what was learned.

Step 3. Assign each section of the canvas (e.g., the Design & Development section) to a separate group and ask them to consolidate the results of all groups for that section onto a central canvas. Remove duplicates and combine similar items.

Step 4. Ask all the groups to take a few minutes to review the result, determine if it still acts as their DoD, and recommend how to improve, reduce or clarify it.

Step 5. Capture the result as the initial product DoD that everybody can live with.

Step 6. Close with a short retrospective and answer any open questions. 

Once you have agreed on the product DoD, the next step is to determine how much of the DoD each team can pick up and how they could broaden their component scope.

In our next two blog posts, we give an overview of:

  • Guiding the organization in multi-skill development
  • Transitioning to Product Owner at scale

Fourth blog, in a blog series about the upcoming book: Creating Agile Organizations – A Systemic Approach, by Cesario Ramos & Ilia Pavlichenko.

Resisting change during adoption is a normal human reaction. It is not a sign that a team or a particular department lacks courage or abilities. Also, it is not necessarily a sign that a particular framework or method is bad. Resisting change is not only inevitable; it is necessary for a change to become successful. A Scrum Master needs to be well prepared to work with resistance and have knowledge and skills in change management. In this article, we share a few critical guidelines that we use during change initiatives of any size.

Guideline: Co-create the Change

For many years management used a top-down and plan-based approach for change. They decided on a change and handed it to a change team. The slightly better way was developing a plan, selling it to the employees. Both approaches did not work very well. When organizational change strategy and execution are run by different people, encountering strong resistance during execution is very likely. To avoid that pitfall, we prefer a different approach. We invite everyone to co-create the change. Co-creation increases the chances of success for any change initiative. When people actively participate from the start and their feedback is used to improve the solution, resistance is much lower and adoption higher. Thus, usually change is best to be introduced both bottom-up and top down. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization seems to agree:

“During the last few years, a new understanding of the process of organizational change has emerged. It is not top-down or bottom-up, but participative at all levels—aligned through a common understanding of a system” (Peter Senge)

There are three forms of co-creation that we often use: facilitated sessions such as open-space, surveys, and instant feedback techniques. For example, in one company the employees collaboratively defined the optimizing goals, learning goals, and metrics for an Agile adoption. It took us several weeks to conduct a series of the facilitated sessions, but the result was profound. People did it themselves and from that moment felt more responsible for the change.

Guideline: Voluntary Participation

Mandating reduces participation, imposing Agile makes no allowance for what people want or what they think and feel. People may “check out” and disengage. That results in failed change initiatives, poor morale, and employee turnover. 

Is there a way to avoid the resistance and achieve enthusiasm instead of demotivation? The fundamental solution is voluntary participation. We find it helpful to think of a change as a game. All games share the four defining traits: a goalrulesa feedback system, and voluntary participation.

 “Voluntary participation requires that everyone who is playing the game knowingly and willingly accepts the goal, the rules, and the feedback. Knowingness establishes common ground for multiple people to play together. And the freedom to enter or leave a game at will ensures that intentionally stressful and challenging work is experienced as a safe and pleasurable activity” (McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken)

Therefore, the volunteer is the person who accepts the goal of the change and its rules and is ready to use the internal feedback mechanism to improve. In case of Scrum, voluntary participation would mean:

  • Accepting the goal of “delivering highest value each Sprint” and its implications, for example, working outside your main specialty.
  • Conforming to the rules of the game described in the Scrum Guide.
  • Actively participating in the Scrum events for inspection and adaptation.
  • Readiness to conform to the Scrum values: openness, courage, respect, focus and commitment.

Figure 1: What it means to be a volunteer.

What happens to people who do not accept the change? Do they have to leave the company? One of the pillars of Lean is Respect for People, and the first value of the Agile Manifesto is Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. We respect their choice. We kindly ask non-volunteers to stay outside the product group as they don’t accept the rules of the game and that would create a conflict within the system. 

“You do not have to spend a lot of time and effort on those who strongly resist change. You only have to help and protect those who want to change, so that they are able to succeed. This does not mean that you can afford to ignore the existence of committed and influential opponents of change. You may have to find ways to prevent these individuals from sabotaging the process. However, once you have figured out who cannot be converted, you should not waste more time trying to persuade them” (David Hutton, Change Agents’ Handbook)

After a while, some people that did not volunteer initially might see that this Agile way of working works and agree to voluntarily join. From one point of view, this is perfectly okay; however, you could discover that teams could be wary. And then the Scrum Master might have a repatriation issue to nurture. On the other hand, some people are just early adopters, while others are laggers, and both types of people are useful in your organization. You can give them a chance.

Guideline: Find the Right Balance of Radical and Incremental Change

There is a myth that one needs to choose either radical or a revolutionary change. This is a typical false dichotomy which is the simplistic, binary approach. In nature, change occurs both incrementally AND radically. This is true for all social systems: individuals, teams, and organizations.

“It is interesting to note that Darwin’s theory of evolution has been characterized for many years as a slow, incremental process of change, but more recently, scholars have challenged this view, stating that changes in living organisms actually occur in spurts, or leaps, as perturbations” (Burke, W. Warner. Organization Change: Theory and Practice).

Punctuated equilibrium theory changes the way biologists and scientists think about evolution now. Punctuated equilibrium is a stable state for a period of time where small incremental adjustments are made to adjust for environmental changes without significantly affecting the status. Then it is followed by a short period of a radical change where the deep underlying structures change. That enables the system to evolve to a new status quo.

Figure 2: Evolution over time 

Incremental change is inevitable. People need time to absorb change and make the new processes and rules deeply ingrained and habitual. During flat periods most of the work happens including preparation for radical change. The problem with taking only incremental steps is that organizations can land at a local optimum. That is why organizations need points where radical change happens. Radical changes or Kaikaku are usually introduced by senior management. A good example of a radical change is moving from component to feature teams.

Guideline: Help People to Cross the Edge

We have learned a very useful model called the EDGE model. We utilize it when working with teams that are about to go through a change. Please look at Figure 3.

 Figure 3:The edge theory

The model is easy to understand. Before any change, people are located in their primary state. They have some familiar routines, acquired skills, and identity. This is the status quo. The secondary state is the state after the change where you invite people to go, probably, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place with lots of unknowns. In order to reach the secondary state people need to pass the edge. Let us provide you with an example. Pretend that you are a Scrum Master working with a product organization with typical Copy Paste Scrum adoption where teams are organized around components and functions. Management has decided to re-organize and adopt feature teams to optimize the system for learning and adaptability. The probable primary state of most developers might be:

  • The feeling of safety (“Everything runs quite stable here, no need for change”)
  • Feelings of competence (“I am doing a good job working within my component and technology”)
  • Frustration (“The development and technical debt drives me crazy” )

The secondary state might be :

  • Fear (“No one will take care of the code quality, that will inevitably cause a failure”)
  • Feelings of incompetence (“I will have to learn new technologies and components”)
  • Expectation (“Finally we will be able to ship something fast and become more competitive”)

The primary state is not better than the secondary state. It is just information about where people are in relation to the point of the edge. 

Now a few strategies on how you can support teams in crossing the edge.

Guest Visit

It is an invitation to visit the secondary state for a short time and then return back safely. Thus, you do not force anyone to commit to change, just kindly ask to investigate the secondary in non-binding travel as a tourist. For instance, once we helped to organize a trip to one of our customers that adopted many modern engineering practices[md]teams were continuously working in pairs, using mob-programming, and test-driven development (TDD) practices. High-quality code was a norm there. During the guest trip, team representatives observed and directly communicated with feature teams that integrated code continuously and were able to ship a quality product to the market. 

Create Edge Awareness

Another strategy is creating awareness regarding where people are relative to the edge. By doing this, we make people responsible for acting according to what they think is best for them now. We believe people are intelligent and capable of making informed decisions. The proven method of creating awareness is using constellations. For instance, during the kick-off that lasted for five consecutive days, we introduced constellations that revealed where teams were related to the edge. Then we randomly created small groups, and asked people to answer two questions:

  • Where am I now in relation to the edge?
  • What do I feel?

Honor the Past

The past may be imperfect, but people are standing on its foundation. There were successes in the past. It is important to honor and celebrate where an organization has been because it helps establish a transition to the future. And, by doing this, we recognize the contribution to the change of those who sacrifice to make it possible. This can be the single most important factor in making a successful change.

“Paradoxically, honoring the past helps people let go of it” (Esther Derby, 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change)

We often organize a special workshop to celebrate the successes and honor the past. We ask attendees to bring as many photos from the past as they can to the workshop, Then we ask them to write down all significant events they can recall and appreciate the past using structured discussions.

In our next two blog posts we give an overview of:

  • How to Design Product Group Design to Eliminate Dependencies
  • And how to launch your product group.

De investering voor deze training is Euro 2495, – ex BTW en Euro 2095, – ex BTW voor vroege vogels tot 1 maand voor de start. De prijzen zijn inclusief trainingsmateriaal en voor alle dagen lunch en koffie, drankjes en versnaperingen gedurende de dag.

Meer informatie over deze training

Professional Scrum MasterDe investering voor deze training is Euro 1695,- ex BTW and Euro 1485,- ex BTW voor vroege vogels, tot 1 maand voor aanvang van de training. De prijzen voor deze training zijn inclusief materialen en voor alle dagen lunch, koffie en drankjes en hapjes gedurende de dag.

This is a description of the workshop I did at the LeSS Conference in Amsterdam.

You can use this workshop to have a thorough discussion about your new LeSS group or to repair an existing LeSS adoption.

For a general workshop, you can use the starting situation I wrote about in my Copy Paste Scaling articles that you can find here and another one there. I now call it the MeSS, then your goal is to go from MeSS to LeSS.

In the context of your organization, you start with your current situation.

Step 1

In this step, you generate a list of problems that you want to address.

The question to answer is, What should be removed from the MeSS ( or from your current situation ) to get to LeSS?

  • With your group generate a list of problems that you would need to address in your LeSS organization. You can use liberating structures if you have many people in the room.
  • Write each problem or improvement on a Post-Its. I like to ask people to write it in the form: “How do you …”
  • Use affinity mapping to remove duplicates and create a common understanding of the problems.

Step 2

In this step, you are going to discover which LeSS Pattern cards, if any, could be helpful.

Place the LeSS Cards front down on the table.

  • Choose a problem to work on.
  • Each person picks 4 LeSS cards from the deck.
  • Each player selects a card(s) from his hand, if any, that describes the problem and plays that card on the table.
  • The group then discusses the potential LeSS Patterns that could be useful in addressing that specific problem.
  • When agreed, place the pattern cards under the matching problem. If you have multiple cards that solve the problem place the cards in a sequence.
  • Each person refills their hand to 4 cards. If the new cards solve the current problem, you place the card, discuss and refill your hand again.
  • Then repeat with the next problem.

Step 3

In this third and last step, you discuss the sequences that you created and decide which pattern you want to apply.

A sequence is your best guess on how to improve the organization at the moment in time. When you adopt a pattern, you will learn if it works or not. If it works, you keep it; if not, you backtrack and try another. The basic process is as follows:

  1. Choose the pattern that will most strengthen your LeSS group.
  2. Apply the pattern.
  3. Assess if it indeed solves your problem at the end of the Sprint, then recognize your new context and choose the next pattern that you want to try.
  4. If not, undo the pattern and try another at Step 2 instead.

Keep an experimental mindset, be ready to learn and adjust, and understand that there is no “best” sequence. A sequence shows a path, but the teams have to do the walking and discover how to implement it.

The LeSS Pattern Cards

I created the LeSS Pattern cards for free use by the LeSS community. Just drop me an email if you want to obtain a deck. I will send you a printed deck.

This blog is part of a series of previews from my upcoming book Coaching Agile Organisations

In the first part of this blog series, I explained how to identify the organizational elements to include in your product definition. In this blog, I explain how you can refine your product definition to organize into effective cross-functional teams.

Some elements are more equal than others.

Below you can see a simplified view of the organizational elements at one of my customers.

We discovered that some organizational elements are required more than others to develop product features. The more often a particular element is required, the stronger the dependency. We visualised the strength of the dependencies with a heat map—see the figure below for a anonymised simplified example. 

The y-axis shows product features. The x-axis shows the organizational elements. A green area indicates an element that is needed to deliver the feature.

The elements that heat up the most indicate the strength of the dependency—these are the hotspots. Note that the WEB element is needed in 28% of the time to develop product features, the APP 20% of the time, while Legal is required only 7%.

NOTE: Avoid focusing too much on the percentages, this is not an exact science but rather a guide to help you move forward. Next to percentages I also successfully used different scales to estimate the strength of the dependencies like: Seldom, Now and Then, Frequent.

When all the teams can pick up any work that comes in and deliver it completely to done, you have maximum adaptability. That would mean that each team has the skills to cover the whole heat map. Unfortunately, this was not the case for us. There were just too many technologies and domain knowledge for the teams to comprehend. Also, there is value in team specialisation. The solution was for teams to specialise in the customer domain first, and then to learn about the other product domains as needed.

Learning can take many months or even years, and in the meantime, we needed to determine how to start. Which organisational elements should the teams cover first and which shall we add later? This decision depends upon the strength and type of the dependencies.

Find the balance between adaptability and speed 

When a team can work on all components but only one feature, a team covers a complete row, as drawn in the figure below. Such a team has no external dependencies; hence they probably deliver fast. On the other hand, when a team covers all features but only one component, a team covers a complete column in the heatmap. Such a team can work on all feature-parts; hence they can adapt to all work that comes in, but cannot deliver end-to-end. 

Therefore, the size of the heat map area that a team covers strongly determines its

  • feature delivery speed
  • flexibility to pick up work from the product backlog.

Our challenge was to find the optimal balance between speed and adaptability in our 11 team context, and that depended upon several variables:

  • The teams’ cognitive capacity. When teams specialise in a customer domain they can still work on customer features without needing to understand the other customer domains of the product.
  • The type of dependencies between the elements. This helps the teams determine which organizational elements to cover first and which later.

Specialise in the Customer Domain

Our product was a large insurance system. We used interviews and questionnaires to determine where users spend most of their time when using the product. It turned out that there were a couple of main groups of users. (For this blog, I just use the 2 groups Claims and Evaluation. and call them red and yellow.) Some users mostly used the red-colored features—red area— while the other group primarily used the yellow-colored features—yellow area. The orange features are used by both sets of users—they overlap or intersect both red and yellow areas. 

The red and yellow areas let the teams specialize in a customer domain—see Requirement Areas in LeSS (less.works) and Value Area Scrum pattern (scrumbook.org). This reduces the cognitive demand on the teams.

The next step was to find the most significant heat map area that the teams could cover. 

The type of dependencies between the elements

We used the following rules to decide which elements to include from the beginning and which to add later.

  • Rule 1 – Contain reciprocal dependencies within one Value Area: The work of one team is input for another team and vice-versa, and there is uncertainty about how to accomplish the task, which makes frequent alignment necessary
  • Rule 2 – Ensure sequential dependencies between Value Areas with iterative planning: A team is dependent upon the work done by another team. Applicable to work with low uncertainty and predictable work.
  • Rule 3 – Manage pooled dependencies across Teams and Value Areas with simple coordination rules: For example, the sharing of a single test environment, or dependency of a person with a scarce skill.

Below you can see an example result for the red Value Area.

The Web, App, Siebel, Portal components are used often together and their interdependencies are reciprocal. The teams in the red area decided that they woud need to cover at least these elements.

Furthermore, you can see that the area has a pooled interdependency with Legal, and that it is a relatively strong dependency. of 14% The weakest interdependency is with Sales Force. We choose not to include Sales Force initially and only add it when the teams mastered the other elements. Legal was also not included because it was a pooled dependency.

The yellow Value Area below has a different set of dependencies.

The teams decided that they needed to cover at least the APP, Sales Force, Siebel and WEB components

For this area, Legal is not needed at all. And there is a weak sequential dependency on Portal. We decided to not include Portal in the first step. In the exceptional case that a feature needed a change in Portal the teams would coordinate with the red-area to get it done. We also used these as opportunities to learn more about Portal.

How to handle the features in the intersecting orange area? A solution is to decide based on the feature itself.

For example, F10 could be picked up by either the red or yellow area. F18 require only APP and can be picked up by the yellow area. The only complicated feature is F11. It requires Sales Force and Portal which neither the red or yellow area possess. So, how to handle this one? Well…., remember the golden rule of Scrum Mastership: “Always ask the team.”

Final Result

The product definition includes all elements, but we choose to not include Legal skills in any of the teams from the start. Why? Because it is a pooled and weak dependency. Also, the teams felt they were not yet able to cover more skills right from the start. Instead, Legal became the next activity to include in their Definition Of Done.

In the unfrequent case when a feature requiring Legal skills would appear on top of the Product Backlog, we would plan for that by working together with Legal in refinement events and during the Sprint.

At Sprint Planning, the team that selected that feature would then coordinate to work together with someone from Legal to get the feature done. Preferably, the Legal person(s) would also use the opportunity to teach the team so that they understood a little bit more about Legal at the end of the Sprint. When a team keeps selecting to work on features with a Legal part, eventually they learn enough to add Legal to their Definition Of Done. Bas Vodde calls this accidental specialization.

NOTE Not all teams need to know everything about all element in the Product Definition right from the start. Teams can have their own speciality as long as all teams as a group can pick up all element from the top of the Product Backlog.