Friday, March 20, 2015

Does your Definition of Done allow known defects?

Is it just me or do you also find it odd that some teams have clauses like this in their definition of done (DoD)?
Done... or Done-But?
... the Story will contain defects of level 3 severity or less only ...
Of course they don't mean you have to put minor bugs in your code - that really would be mad - but it does mean you can sign the Story off as "Done" if the bugs you discover in it are only minor (like spelling mistakes, graphical misalignment, faults with easy workarounds, etc.). I saw DoDs like this some time ago and was seriously puzzled by the madness of it. I was reminded of it again at a meet-up discussion recently - it's clearly a practice that's not uncommon.

Let's look at the consequences of this policy. 

Potentially for every User Story that is signed off as "Done" there could be several additional Defect Stories (of low priority) that will be created. It's possible that finishing a Story (with no additional user requirements) will result in an increase in the Product Backlog size! (Aaaagh...) You're either never going to finish or, more likely, never going to fix those Defects in spite of all the waste that will be generated around recording, estimating, prioritising and finally attempting to fix the defects (when the original developer has forgotten how he coded the Story, or has been replaced with someone who never knew it in the first place).

What should happen then? 

Clearly the simple answer is that if you find a bug (of whatever severity) before the Story is "Done", fix it. You haven't finished until it works - just avoid double-think like I've finished it even though the product now contains new defects.

Can there be exceptions to this?

Those who think quality is "non-negotiable" would probably answer "No", but actually (whether acknowledged or not) we all work with a concept of "sufficient quality". It is inherent in ideas like "minimum viable product" and "minimum marketable feature". Zero defects is a slogan not a practicable policy for most product developments. Situations where we find defects that are hard to fix when working on a User Story, bring this issue to the fore.

So here's what I recommend Product Owners do. Firstly, don't sign off a Story if it contains defects! Secondly if defects are found choose to do one of the following:
  1. Insist it's fixed. Always preferred, and should nearly always be followed. Occasionally however it is too expensive, but unless the cost of fixing it is greater than the time already spent on the Story I would always recommend fixing. (We discuss below the problem of "deadlines".)
  2. Accept it's not a defect... at least not a defect that will ever get fixed (unless it's found and added to the Backlog by users). This doesn't feel right but it is more honest than adding items to the Product Backlog that will never be prioritised.
  3. Agree the defect is actually a different Story, functionality that will be covered elsewhere even though it is part of the same Epic or Feature. The original Story will not be released without all the functionality of that Epic/Feature, so it will be fixed before release. Note that this option depends on a well understood concept of Epic/Feature and appropriate release policies around it.
What I am arguing for here is that our Definition of Done trumps deadlines, Sprint boundaries and Sprint "commitments". I believe it is confusion in this area that leads teams to adopt misguided DoDs. That confusion in turn results in the need for "Maintenance Teams" that clear up after Development teams have scattered defects through the product, or the common practice of dumping defects into massive Defect logs that will never be cleared, even if the development continues for decades! As +Liz Keogh has observed, deadlines should really be renamed "sad-lines" - if they're missed nobody's dead; maybe a few are sad! It is not that such planned dates are unimportant, of course they are not. It is that agreed dates should not have greater importance than agreed quality.

These "Done-But" policies are most common in development departments where the concept of commitment ("Look me in the eye and tell me you will complete these Stories by this date") is considered more important than Done, i.e. that completing a Story means it will be at the quality agreed. The Scrum Guide replaced the word "commitment" with "forecast" in a recent revision for a reason - commitment should be what a team member brings to the overall goals of the organisation, not to a date that at best was derived from very limited information.

Of course in reality both commitment to dates and a particular Definition of Done must be subservient to the overall business goals. We can move a release date for an Epic/Feature to a later (or earlier) date if that will better fulfill the overall goals. Similarly changing the DoD or quality expectations up or down should always be considered in order to improve business outcomes.

Does your Definition of Done allow known defects? If so please come back to me and tell me why... or if you would change it, tell me how?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Care about business strategy? - Tune to this channel...

If you think the principles and values of agile extend beyond the narrow boundaries of software development teams to organisations and corporate cultures, I think, like me, you'll be inspired by a couple of presentations from the recent Agile On The Beach conference, They are great bedtime viewing (for when you've finally had enough of Bakeoff!).

Firstly a video from Tom Sedge: TDD for Business Strategies – Developing Business Strategies Test-First.
Tom Sedge provides very practical advice on how to define mission (why we're here - our purpose and driving cause), vision (where we're heading - how the world will be different), goals (what we want - destinations or desired outcomes), and strategies (how we will get there - potential routes to the destination). His examples of good (Tesla, SpaceX) and bad (Kodak) missions/visions are particularly helpful. How could the inventor of the digital camera go bust, just as digital photography exploded on scene, particularly as their founder George Eastman expressed his vision in the 1880's as "a world where the camera is as convenient as the pencil". These days I quite often wish I had a pencil on me, yet I always have a camera! His vision makes a sad contrast with Kodak's mission and vision statement from the early 2000's - a paragraph of unmemorable platitudes about customer focus and shareholder value, that no one outside the company would care a fig about!


The second one is from Bjarte Bogsnes, Vice President of Performance Management Development at the major international oil company, Statoil. It's on Beyond Budgeting – an agile management model for new business and people realities. If you give it a listen you'll understand why (even though I think budgets are essential) I'm not that keen on investing much time in annual budgeting. In his words, the approach "... is about rethinking how we manage organisations in a post-industrial world, where innovative management models represent the only sustainable competitive advantage ... releasing people from the burdens of stifling bureaucracy and suffocating control systems, trusting them with information and giving them time to think, reflect, share, learn and improve."

Remember he's talking about a massive oil company - not the easiest place to introduce agile thinking! Gives hope to the rest of us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

x-Banning a process

I've just proposed an experience paper for LKUK14 - "x-Ban the process! (or how a product team is improving value delivery rate with Kanban)". Feel free to vote for it by the way here!

Scrumban, Xanpan (XP-ban) - even Prince-ban and DSDM-ban - have all been used as portmanteau words to explain the journeys from a particular named process or framework to a continually evolving and improving process, guided by the principles and practices of Kanban. If you are trying to apply a named process but frustrated by a patchy track-record of improvement, consider the alternative: x-Ban it!

When I was asked in early 2013 if I would work with Clearvision's product development team, they had just adopted Scrum (a matter of weeks before). Their process, like most I've reviewed from teams claiming to use Scrum, was not compliant with a large number of Scrum rules. It was pragmatic, constrained, variably applied and ripe for improvement... but it certainly wasn't Scrum. We had two choices - apply Scrum rules as soon as possible (defining the backlog of necessary changes and a timetable to apply them), or “x-Ban” it (use Kanban to attain evolutionary changes that we kept only if we were confident they resulted in improvements). We did the latter.

There are many lessons I've learned from this experience: some things that worked - and some that didn’t. They're lessons and general principles that others can apply on a similar journey. It has taken much longer to adopt some practices than I expected, the current process is quite different than I expected when I started 18 months ago (it’s more Scrum-like now than when I arrived for example!), but it is a route I would recommend to others.

Start x-Banning your process now!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Not all work "flows"

I've written elsewhere that it's key to focus attention on "Work that Flows" (see Clearvision's blog). That is, work that has a beginning, middle and end (delivery) and some tangible value as the outcome. The thing is not all work does flow. A lot of our time is dedicated to tasks that are simply "overhead". They might be waste - they add no value and serve no useful purpose - but equally they might be necessary activity within the context of how you deliver your work, yet not actually attached to delivery. Project management for example will need to be done for as long as the project lasts - it is not something can be completed independently from the delivery tasks. Sometimes overhead tasks can be removed if the process is changed, but  more often they are a pretty-much immovable feature of the way we work.

I just want to make one point about this - you should know the difference between work that flows and work that doesn't - i.e. overhead work. Don't put overhead tasks on your Scrum or Kanban boards for example. Focus on the work that flows. Whenever you can, eliminate (or minimise) the overhead tasks!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Postscript on Cycle Time

In my last post Visual explanation of Kanban terms I included a diagram and quotation from the Lean Lexicon (Chet Marchwinski et al Eds, 4th ed., Lean Enterprise Institute, 2008) which defines the meaning of Cycle time (CT1) as:
Cycle Time (CT): How often a part or product actually is completed by a process as timed by observation.
In the interest of completeness, this postscript includes the definition of cycle time (CT2) from Factory Physics (Hopp, W.J and M. L. Spearman, 3rd ed., McGraw Hill, International Edition, 2008).
Cycle Time (CT): cycle time... is measured as the average time from when a job is released into a station or line to when it exits. (Where ambiguity is possible cycle time at station i is written CT(i).)
The definitions are clear, concise, from authoritative and up to date sources and referencing authoritative primary sources. Unfortunately they are also contradictory. It is therefore unsurprising that the relatively new Kanban community finds it difficult to agree on uniform and unambiguous terminology, since the Lean manufacturing community has already had this problem for a considerable time.
Lean Lexicon and Factory Physics - two clear, contemporary,authoritative... and unfortunately contradictory sources