You’ve seen projects that start off great. They zoom along, delivering. And then something happens. They slow to a crawl. Sometimes, they get stuck so badly you decide to stop and declare victory (or defeat) and start all over.
What can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen to your project?
Tip 1: Release something every month.
Some of you are shaking your head at me. “JR, our project or program is too big. We can’t possibly release something every month. You can’t be serious.” I am. You and your product owners can learn to build a roadmap and then a backlog where you can create value in much smaller chunks. This is not easy.
I like to start with a roadmap so everyone can see the vision of the releases. Now, decide what you want to release every month. From that vision, you can create the list of tiny features or stories you want to include in the releases. The smaller you can think about the features, the more value you will create.
Tip 2: Ask everyone to watch for and prevent technical debt.
When everyone watches for technical debt, everyone becomes aware of decisions that can create technical debt.
Sometimes, we consciously allow debt. A conscious decision might be okay. However, the longer the project and the larger the program, the more that debt will catch up to us later. This is even truer in an agile program with multiple teams.
Here are some examples of technical debt that you might not consider debt: hardening iterations, manual tests that you plan to repeat, and not automating tests for fixed defects.
You might need a hardening iteration every so often but not as often as once a quarter. That’s too often. That means that teams are not achieving “done” for each feature, and for every release.
Do not assume that testers can “keep up” with developers by performing the same manual tests over and over. My experience is that developers can code much faster than a tester can test. If your testers need to repeat a test, someone needs to automate that test. That’s testing technical debt.
Not everyone will agree with me that you should have automated tests for already-fixed defects. However, my experience is that too many fixed defects don’t stay fixed while the product is under significant development. I’m not blaming the developers. There is too much in flux for them to remember some of their concerns and challenges. Why should they have to remember? Add an automated test, and no one has to remember anything.
Tip 3: Make all technical debt visible.
If you have debt, make it visible. Don’t ignore it.
If you discover that you need to refactor or, worse, rearchitect your build system, plan for it and do it. Learn how much it’s costing you to continue working the way you are. When you learn, you will be astonished. It’s almost always more than you suspected.
I like to create a debt backlog, so the product owner (PO) can see what’s there and decide what to take from that backlog, in addition to the features. In the same way that she can decide which defects to add from the issue tracking system and which features from the roadmap, the PO needs to be able to see the debt backlog. Help her.
Each of these tips is about making small progress. With enough progress, you gain more momentum. It adds up.
Try these three tips, and let me know what happens on your project or program.
If you liked this article about gaining momentum, let me remind you about my November workshops in Israel. If you have a large project or a program, you want to achieve momentum and maintain it. I will discuss this very problem in my workshop about agile program management, along with several others in November. See A Week with Johanna for the schedule. Don't worry if you are not “totally” agile. I have alternatives for you, too. Please do join me.
Oct 23 Webinar, Agile Hiring: It's a Team Sport
I also have two new coaching programs available:
* Agile Program Management Coaching for those of you who want specific coaching for your agile programs.
* Project Portfolio Coaching for those of you who are suffering with too much to do.
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© 2014 Johanna Rothman
Tags: agile, agile program management, momentum, program management, roadmap, technical debt