Agile Lifecycles for Geographically Distributed Teams, Part 3

Example 3: Using a Project Manager with Iterations and Kanban and Silo’d Teams

Here, the developers were in Cambridge, MA, the product owners were in San Francisco, the testers were in Bangalore, and the project manager was always flying somewhere, because the project manager was shared among several projects. The developers knew about timeboxed iterations, so they used timeboxes. Senior management had made the decision to fire all the local testers and buy cheaper tester time over the developers’ objections and move the testing to Bangalore. The Indian testers were very smart, and unfamiliar with the product, so the developers suggested the testers test feature by feature inside the iteration.

The project manager suggested they use cumulative flow diagrams and cycle time measurements to make sure the developers were not developing “too fast” for the testers. The developers, still smarting over the loss of “their testers” were at first, peeved about this. They then realized the truth of this statement, and developed this kanban board.

You can see in this board, that four items are waiting to go into system test. Uh oh. The developers are out-producing what the testers can take. This is precisely what a kanban board can show you.

The testers aren’t stupid or slow. They are new. They cannot keep up with the developers. It’s a fact of life, not a mystery of life. The developers have to act in some way to help the testers or the entire project will fail. The reason they are working in timeboxes as well as using kanban is that they have several contractual deliverables, that management, bless their tiny little hearts, committed to. The timebox allows the team or the product owners to meet with their customers and show them their progress. (They were deciding who would meet when I last worked with the team.) The kanban board help make the progress even more transparent.

Iteration planning: The product owner and the project manager jointly work on the agile feature roadmap, and the product owner owns the roadmap responsibility for it. The product owner owns and generates the backlog. The product owner and the agile project manager present a strawman iteration backlog to the team at the start of the iteration. They have had difficulty finding iteration planning time that allows everyone to be awake and functioning, bless the senior managers’ little hearts.

Daily commitment: They do a handoff, asking each other what they completed that day and what the impediments are. If you have read Manage It!, you know I modified the three questions to “What did you complete, what are you planning to complete, what is in your way?”

Measurements: cumulative flow, average time to release a feature into the product. They are experimenting with burnup charts and impediment charts. They are still having trouble bringing the testers up to speed fast enough.

Yes, they do retrospectives at the end of each iteration. Yes, the product owners own the backlogs.

I’ll summarize in the final part, the next entry.

(Want to learn to work more effectively on your geographically distributed team? Join Shane Hastie and me in a workshop April 17-18, 2012.)

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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