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Why Limiting the WIP and Swarming are the Key Habit Changes towards Faster Delivery?

February 18, 2021

The most common cause of a Scrum Team (ST) not accomplishing their Sprint Goal, not having things DONE at the end of the Sprint , is that everybody is busy individually working on their Sprint Backlog items.

  • When you look at the Scrum board, most of the things are OPEN / IN PROGRESS, touch time is too long and very few gets to DONE, really conforming to the DoD.
  • Towards the end of the Sprint, everything needs to be tested all at once as one big batch and the time for functional validation seems to be crunched, resulting is low quality test coverage.
  • Sprint Goal isn't accomplished and most of the Sprint Backlog items/stories aren’t DONE.

The challenge is to get the ST members working together (not alone as individuals) as one well-oiled unit, with a singular goal to systematically get fewer stories to Done every couple of days; so that towards the end of the Sprint :

  • Either most of the work is Done & Sprint Goal is accomplished OR
  • The least amount of low value stories aren’t done (flexibility that comes with having a focused, challenging Sprint Goal).

This problem might be present in most of the Scrum Teams (ST)?

What habits and behaviors should we change? Most importantly - Do we want to? Do we have the "intent and accountability" to do it?

Years of research has shown that 2 “habits” are the game changer : “ Limiting the Work In Progress(WIP) and Swarming” .

That is multiple team members working TOGETHER on a single high priority Product Backlog(PB) item or a problem and putting their best foot forward to accomplish it. WHY? 

  • When you are working on 2 or more PB items at a time, you only have 80% productive time/availability - 20% is lost in context switching.
  • When you are working on 3 or more PB items at a time, you only have 60% productive time/availability - 40% is lost in context switching.
  • When you are working on 4 or more PB items at a time, you only have 40% productive time/availability - 60% is lost in context switching
  • When you are working on 5 or more PB items at a time, you only have 25% productive time/availability - 75% is lost in context switching.

Working on too many PB items or stories at the same time creates slowness, destroys team efficiency, degrades quality, erodes creativity and blocks transparency

As a Scrum Team you can make yourself a lot faster, by adapting small changes in your daily habits and mindset. HOW?

  • Focus on just 1 or 2 high priority items/stories (in the Sprint Backlog) at a time, self-organize with a challenging Sprint Goal.
  • Redistribute the team members around these 2 high priority Sprint Backlog items, collaborate and get it to DONE in 1-3 days.
  • Remember the guideline: 12 – 13 [ Swarm on 1-2 high priority items and getting to DONE every 1-3 days].
  • Then swarm on to the next 2 high priority items and get that to DONE.

With fewer items in progress, you’d realize a whole lot of benefits:

  • Better focus, collaboration.
  • Increased flow efficiency.
  • Early transparency into bottlenecks/impediments/queues/dependencies that are pulling the team back.
  • Faster feedback & early validation of your assumptions.
  • Shorter cycle time, better throughput.
  • Increased value delivery & higher quality of work.
  • Better productivity & reduced risks.
  • Collaborative cross functional skill development.
  • Enhanced trust, transparency and teamwork.
  • Better insight into the progress towards the Sprint Goal and release plan.
  • High motivation of the team members as they get to see something to Done every few days.
  • Faster releases to production.
  • Enhanced stakeholder satisfaction & whole team efficiency.
  • More velocity - even if that's the sole focus.

What takes you individually 5-8 days to complete, can be DONE in 1-3 days if two or more people are SWARMING together. Many team members will not buy into this habit mainly because of the way we have been conditioned to work, where we think being busy out-beats everything.

They might think - I will work individually on my own items, keep myself busy. This behaviour is not a healthy sign and will cause the ST to slow down.

Doing more is not better, doing better is better.

Quality > Quantity and consistency triumphs intensity in the long-term.

If you want to be a valuable Scrum Team member – apply the below 5 commandments.

  1. Collaborate, talk, discuss with your team to see how you can elevate the team efficiency.
  2. Focus on 1-2 high priority items at a time – limit your batch size.
  3. Collaborate to get them to DONE in 1-3 days.
  4. Then swarm on the next 1-2 high priority items, get that to DONE.
  5. Rinse, inspect and repeat.

Limiting your WIP (1-2 high priority items at a time) and SWARMING are the key traits of highly successful teams.

Decide if you want to be an ordinary Scrum Team or a:

  • High Performing “Developer”
  • High Performing “Product Owner”
  • High Performing “Scrum Master”
  • High Performing “Scrum Team”

Don’t over think and over analyze this. Just start, it need not be perfect or rather it won’t be perfect. Focus on forward progress(small baby steps) not perfection. The team will find it's way. Trust and give them the time and space.

Be consistent with this habit and do it every day, every Sprint, do it often. Results are inevitable with consistency.

Big transformations happen only when small habits and behaviour changes are repeated consistently again and again.

Until next time, sweat it out, recover and repeat!

#MakeFitnessAHabit  #1repatatime #ScrumOn

Inspiration, Credits and References:

  • Co-founder and Coach, Arvind Ashok ,,The Quad Fitness Pvt. Limited, Madras, India

  • Gerald Weinberg, Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking.

  • Scrum.Org , Professional Scrum Mastery – People and Teams

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