Chow # 137: Is spending slack time on self development good?

Saugandhika came to me with one of those tricky questions.

Shiv, she asked – what should I tell my team member, who, for this discussion, shall remain unnamed, was spotted binge watching tech videos, pretty much all day, yesterday.

My first reaction was, Wow! Isn’t that cool.

The guy has spent time in self development – and possibly that was his slack time. I have heard of teams that utilize the time they wait for the independent testing teams to find issues – to plant Easter eggs in the products..

But, she interjected – the reason he was watching these videos was because he did not have any planned tasks to do.

That is then, simple, I said – just let the scrum master know. I am sure they have enough to do in the backlog or possibly some other team members could do with his help.

Let us talk about this over some coffee, I said and we moved to the pantry area.

There we ran into this person, who was reading a newspaper and smiled at us and greeted.

Hi, I was curious, how is your sprint going. Do you guys feel that you would meet your sprint goals?

Of course, he said.

How come you are so confident, we still have another 4 days left in the sprint, I asked.

He laughed and said – well, I have already completed the planned tasks and stories.

That is great. Surely you would have some points for the introspection, I said.

We sure do, he said. I had figured out an elegant way of implementing the feature and that meant that the code I had to write – and the associated time to design etc, was cut down drastically and testing became a breeze, as some of the components that I reused are very heavily used and hence rigorously regression tested.

That is awesome, I told him, You could then take up the next planned stories, I suppose.

That is where I have an issue he said. I am ready and in fact, vey keen on getting started [and possibly finish] at least one more story in this sprint. But our scrum master, who also is the product owner, says that we cannot take up anything that was not planned and baselined during the sprint planning exercise.

So, rather than take up something more – and then face numerous questions on why etc, I prefer to invest in improving my technical skills.

Saugandhika said – now, do you understand my confusion, Shiv?

I think I did.. and wanted to give them both some tips on making the best out of such a situation.

Before I share that, would be happy to hear from you. What would you advise them?

Suggested Solution:

The suggested response:

While this challenge seems to be a happy problem to have, if you look a little deeper, there are multiple warning signs and possible anti patterns.

  • The PO plays the scrum master role
  • Teams do not seem to be encouraged to explore better ways of doing things
  • The reviews and metrics seem to be more process [compliance] focused, rather than the output quality or outcome based.. in other words, product oriented

My suggestions would be to

  • Recognize the specific conditions under every situation and take a call on taking up ‘unplanned’ work, even if it is mid sprint
  • This can then be used as one of the points for learning, in the next retrospective
  • Ensure that the innovative and enthusiastic team members are given a safe environment, even if some experiments fail

Of course, look at splitting the dual, potentially conflicting roles of product owner and scrum master

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