Friday, February 15, 2008

Functional Goals

After this post, I have had a number of conversations with people about what I really meant by setting functional targets instead of story point (velocity) targets. In one such discussion, I was given an example where someone set a goal to run for 90 minutes!!

At first glance you might not find the last statement worth the exclamation marks at the end of it. But this is exactly the difference between functional targets and velocity targets. I think it's wrong to set a target of running for 90 minutes. The real goal is to burn X number of calories. Or to travel X number of kilometers.

Once you set your goal right, you are open to find better ways of achieving it. If your goal is burning calories, you'd probably do it better (faster) by skipping rope for 30 minutes than by running for 90 minutes.

Now all you have to worry about is
  • the rate at which you are actually burning calories AND
  • what can you do to improve this rate

So instead of planning to complete 30 points next iteration (going by yesterday's weather, etc), I'd plan to achieve a set of features and keep optimizing the rate at which I am able to produce features assuming that I never compromise quality in wake of going faster.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


After working in week-long iterations for 2 and a half years, going iterationless left me a little confused on my recent project. Of course when I say iterationless, I mean using extremely small iterations to bring in a flow to stories. Lean? Distributed Lean, maybe?

Firstly, I like the idea of trying something new. The team being small and the project being developed in ruby helps this experiment a lot. There are, however, somethings missing in this way of working. I'll list them down and give my view on each of them in this post.

To realize what we missed, let's look at what we get from iterations. The following are the main motives behind iterations.
  1. Celebrate small successes
  2. Get regular feedback from clients (showcases)
  3. Let the whole team know what we will be focusing on in the next iteration, including the business context around it (Iteration Planning Meeting)
  4. Re-estimate stories based on additional information gathered during the earlier development (Iteration Planning Meeting)

So let's see how we are trying to handle each of these situations.

1. Celebrate small successes.
This is very important. To look back and realize that we actually celebrated achieving a story-point targets each iteration, however, now sounds really lame. The moment you move your focus away from finishing a set of stories in a given time TO finishing a set of features and going to production, the world starts making more sense.

I think in this aspect chucking iterations totally makes sense. What this means is you should have a very strong release plan, with frequent (less than a month long) releases.

2. Getting regular feedback from clients
Showcases have nothing to do with iterations. Iterations only provide regularity to showcases. To say that we will do showcases once a week (and do it) is I think good enough.

One thing to beware of is that showcases-bound-to-timelines (once a week) and development-bound-to-releases (of irregular time intervals) can be quite tricky to handle.

3. Let the whole team know what the focus of the next iteration is
Ours being a small (ideal?) team, I don't see too many problems in this area.

4. Re-estimate stories based on new knowledge
This, I thought, was the most important aspect we were missing out. But once you realize that your story point sizing is only relative to any other story you estimated, the world seems much better. This means that as long as your triangulation is correct, you are ok.

One thing that IPMs give us though, is an opportunity for the whole team to estimate together. Right now I am unsure of how important this method is. I am posting a few questions related to this at the end of this post. It'll be great to get some feedback on these.

All in all I think going iterationless is beneficial in terms of:
  • Shifting the team's focus from story points to features / business value.
  • Letting the team focus on estimating complexity of stories much more clearly.

What I am unclear about is estimation.
  • If we spend 2 hours every week to estimate together, are we going against lean philosophy?
  • On the contrary, if we estimate just-in-time, in smaller groups (pair to work on the story) are we losing the "group touch" to estimation?
  • Also if we estimate just-in-time (when we decide to play a story), the business doesn't get an opportunity to re-prioritize based on sizing.