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Thursday, 26 August 2010

The N+1 Iteration syndrome

I constantly ask myself if i know what is next at the end of a sprint or iteration and that I should make an effort to know what is coming up next, I observe that just like me the members of the team are only focussing only on the card that there magnet is on in the current iteration. Adapting to a constant flow of user stories and requirement is not easy for any team and is as important as focussing on the stories in the current iteration. We as a team focus on the user stories in the board, but it may be worthwhile asking ourselves how many people in the team are really aware of what is coming up in the next iteration. If members in the team were asked to answer to this question honestly you will find that a vast majority probably don’t have much information or are totally ignorant. I prefer the term N+1 for the next iteration. In most teams I have worked this is a problem that is evident in one form or the other and some common symptoms I find are the ones mentioned below.

Symptoms

  • Analysts find it frustrating that they have to repeatedly read the story out and explain the same story more than a few times.
  • Team velocity sways massively and the standard deviation to average velocity is quite high
  • Requirements workshops are almost absent and it seems like analysts are in a different time zone on the user requirements on most occasions when compared to the team.
  • Team members are not sure about the size of the story and try to come up to a size as close as possible to the rest of the team rather than putting any effort involved in understanding the size of the story.
  • Constructive discussions, debate and any implementation concerns are almost absent
  • The team seems to easily agree on the size of the story and gets swayed into a conclusion by anyone who can speak the team into a conclusion
  • Large stories seem to be finished earlier than they ought to be and some of the smaller stories seem to take more time and some times end up looking like large stories.

This syndrome manifests itself in different ways and consequences range to varying degrees of severity on the functioning of an agile team. The team should address this situation if they do find these symptoms, the effects of not addressing this problem could result in false velocities, skewed metrics, increase in cost of the project and finally manifests itself in a loss of trust from the users for whom we actually work on the project. I wonder if I am making a big deal out of this, but this may be because I perceive the consequences of this syndrome to grow exponentially into bigger problems and can be quite damaging for the future of the team and the project.

We can mitigate some of these symptoms, a few ideas that allow you to improve and move in the right direction are below

  • Introduce a N+1 sprint section on the left and side of your Kanban or sprint board and line up stories that will flow into the next sprint.
  • Encourage analysts who are working on N+1 Q to speak about there analysis during your stand ups, this helps spread awareness of the N+1 iteration on a daily basis. Truth is in an iteration the analyst is probably working 50% of their time on the N+1 sprint and the other current sprint.
  • Encourage your team members to pair with analysts and discuss and learn what they are working on, if you can allow your developers and QAs to pair for 5% of the iteration on a rotational basis with the analyst. These pairing sessions really helps non technical analysts to learn a few tricks and understand why you would think the story is complex or simple
  • Have mini 15 minute sessions every day after the stand up to pick up one story from the N+1 board and discuss with the analyst, testability and implementation details. This will mitigate the loss of requirements workshop they are long and can be boring anyway , small cycles of these sessions will get the team to be constantly involved in requirements.. the term cross functional teams was not coined just for developers and QAs , it did mean all functions in the project.
  • Have some ground rules for your planning session,
    • Team comes attend the planning session with an awareness of the stories flowing into the Kanban,
    • You really don't want estimating to eat up all your planning time, clearly planning is not only to estimate it is also about discussing priorities and setting goals for your iteration, spend some time planning how you would action retrospectives as well.

You will see that the team will at least loose the perplexed “I don't know what you are talking about look “ and the “I cant be bothered” attitude , this could be a good starting point to address the problem. This will allow your team to be more involved in planning as much as they are involved in the progress of the sprints.