Real World Agile Q&A

One of the joys of being an Agile Coach is that it is a passion and a calling that doesn’t end at 5pm. Frequently I have the pleasure of staying in contact with individuals who I have worked with via phone and email. With the permission of a good friend, and changing a few details to render our exchange more generic, I present our latest exchange in hopes that people will find it helpful or at least interesting.


I keep reading your articles and really enjoy the insight you continue to bring to the Agile world. I’m particularly stuck with a situation here at my current employer.

questionWe’ve organized a scrum team that has done a fantastic job pushing out working, quality software since we started 10 weeks ago. However, this team primarily has worked on our website, but as I see it, we are bringing all of our development work to the team. Consequently, we are about to kick off work for redesigning our Intranet. This too falls into the team’s backlog, but now my business contact is pushing back, saying her backlog for Internet is separate and she doesn’t want to have to prioritize her work including the Intranet. I don’t have the luxury of just adding more developers to an additional team.

What tactics would you use to approach solving this? It’s a fragile situation. Your thoughts?


My response:

Thanks for the kind words. My first thought is a question – how many people are on the team? If you have enough, I would float the idea of splitting the team. The rule of thumb is one or more teams per backlog. What your proxy PO is doing is to (perhaps arbitrarily) split one backlog into two. One team cannot really service multiple POs or multiple backlogs. This way you can give the PO a choice – work with me to understand resources are limited, work with me to value all of the work for the team (not just your work) and then sequence the work so that the entire company is getting the benefit of a stable, focused agile scrum team.

question marksThat said, the real root of your problem might be that you really don’t have a product owner in the classic sense. Perhaps you would be well served to find someone who could represent a full backlog, especially if your team is too small to split as outlined above. I would suggest that all stories on your backlog should have both effort (in points) and value. Perhaps the best way to achieve your story value is to have your people compute the cost of delay (COD) for each item. You can then show all the work of the team with respect to value/effort to get an idea of which items to sequence first. If you find stories too granular to perform COD, group them (call them Epics, Themes, etc). Though I don’t recommend wholesale use of SAFe in your case, I would recommend that you have your folks look into concepts like COD and WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) that SAFe describes fairly well. Donald G. Reinertsen further elucidates these ideas in the book The Principles of Product Development Flow.

If you cannot get a different PO who can oversee more than just their parochial concerns and you cannot split the team in a way to service the two different products you are working on then your options become even more limited. My next question would be to ask who is in charge of your Agile effort? One of the reasons I have proposed the concept of CAO (Chief Agile Officer) is for situations such as these where someone at the top level of the organization can arbitrate using the entire organizational as a lens to determine best courses of action. It sounds like you are both on the same organizational level so it would help to appeal to a higher management level in instances where two of the same level cannot come to a satisfactory conclusion. Obviously this is a last resort in that people involved tend to react negatively to people “going over their heads.”

I wish you all the best, hope that you are able to resolve this situation and that my advice will prove valuable, and if not so, will at least not result in a negative outcome.

In the end, my friend decided to split the team into two smaller teams. Maybe in a later blog I can follow up to see how well this tactic worked.

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