Greg West is an Agile Coach at MATRIX. Greg has the following certifications: ICP-ENT, CLP, SA, CSM.
Team Predictability Is the Destination - Or Is It?
The incredible power of predictability adds so much to an organization. With this newfound power, changing organizations can predict the future in ways unimaginable compared with the archaic alchemy and mystics of the Gaant chart where human sacrifices are offered to the gods that control the future.
This power can offer an organization more flexibility in adapting a plan to match the predictable future through a regular cadence of delivery and workstream pipelines. Workers know and can expect what their work is going to be the next day, and the next day and the next day…even weeks and months in advance. There is safety and happiness within this homeostatic and predictable garden filled with bird melodies, pretty flowers, butterflies, smiles and even heart-shaped cookies.
I have noticed a tendency for many change agents, myself included, to accelerate teams to this utopian garden that is just beyond the next ridge as an objective outcome of our efforts. The quicker we achieve this the better. Scrum practices especially emphasize this point, as a method to implement patterns of predictability. Cadence of scrum events, ready backlogs, far-seeking horizons of product roadmaps, velocity and commit-to-delivery ratios are a few scrum artifacts that emphasize predictability.
Unconsciously, we oftentimes measure our success as change agents by how predictable the teams track. We measure and know we are doing the right thing when the KPI’s and data supports the normalization of the graph lines of a predictable pattern. A good feeling indeed.
However, if a team fails to (insert your KPI of choice) then that is a bad thing. While many KPIs are great indicators of problems to predictability, they still are about predictability. These exposed problems, I have found, should never be viewed as bad or even undesired. Recently, I was working with a new team as part of a transforming organization and checked on them. They delivered 56 points of the previous sprint and zero at the end of the current sprint. The scrum master, management and stakeholders had grim expressions and treated this as a bad experience. I challenged them to think of this as absolutely successful. The team exposed deeper problems that could have otherwise gone unnoticed…so congratulations folks, we now have some organizational learning to do! This euphoric optimism was not initially contagious but after some persuasion, many agreed to see the new path.
I think teams (and yes, we change agents) have a difficult time thinking in terms of learning as the objective rather than predictability as the true measure of success. Replacing some predictability measurements with learning measurements (e.g. problems exposed / problems resolved ratios) can breed a culture where impediments/problems are not viewed as the abomination cast from the village but rather a welcome weary traveler seeking respite for a night.
The long, arduous journey to the land of predictability will be through unfamiliar terrain requiring some serious climbs up mountains and knee-buckling descents into the valleys, but the learnings along the way are invaluable. The more unpredictable the terrain becomes, the more the learning opportunities become. Teams and organizations should graciously accept these learning opportunities and realize and appreciate these opportunities for growth as positive outcomes rather than a detraction to output.
Using Scrum as a means to discover learning should be the emphasis rather than using Scrum to solely fixate on predictability as a measure of success. I think this is paramount for teams and organizations going through transformation. It is the journey, not the destination, that matters most.