Sunday, December 6, 2015

Limit WIP

Although Scrum Guide does not mention this explicitely, it is an important part of sprint planning and the sprint work itself to limit the amount of Work In Progress. Let's look at this aspect in detail and consider some examples.

Without the notion of WIP, several team members may just start work on several backlog items, say 6 developers start 6 different backlog items. In practice, this apporach often goes together with the phenomenon of one developer working on a single backlog item for several days - either because they are too big for one person to complete them quickly or because they are too big in general. If the backlog items are too big, each developer may work on their backlog item even for the whole duration of the sprint. Now, there are some disfunctions in a team that does this:

Each developer is focused on their backlog item, so there is no really teamwork there. If at least 2-3 developers focus together on one backlog item, it fosters collaboration and gives people common aim. Developers who work together on one item are also more exposed to changes being made in the code, because nobody is developing in a silo.

It is very difficult to say if the team is going to each the spring goal at any point during the sprint - everything is in progress, everything is assigned, but what will actually be Done - this is unknown almost until the very last day. With smaller backlog items and 2-3 developers working on each, a substantial part of sprint backlog is completed during the sprint, so it is much easier for the team to gauge what will be completed by the end of the sprint (at least the items that are Done now wil be Done at the end of the sprint).

Sprint planning
With silo work and big backlog items the team is bound to miss important aspects of the spring planning meeting. After all, a developer that is going to work alone on backlog item A for 10 days will not have much to say about his plan. On the contrary, if a few developers work on each backlog item and the backlog items are rather small (say, doable withing 1-5 days each), the sequence of work is becoming very important during the planning. The team will not plan to start the bigger backlog items late in the sprint. They will consider the order of sprint backlog and the order of their planned work during the sprint to maximize the probability of achieving the sprint goal. They may even notice that what the Product Owner desires is not achievable in a sprint - not because there is too much work to be done but because the sequence of work puts constraints on the delivery.

In a well performing team, there should typically be more than one developer working on a regular backlog item. The backlog items should flow quickly from In Progress to Done, because they are small and two or more people usually work on each. The team may choose to set official WIP and put it on the corkboard - no more than 3 backlog items In Progress at the same time. Or they may just pay attention to it without setting the official limit. Finally, a good Scrum Team will pay attention to defining and splitting the backlog items so that they are small. It is not enough that a backlog item is just doable within a sprint. Smaller backlog items give the team more flexibility in the way they plan to sequence their work and allow them to start work on next backlog items even near the sprint end.

See also