Chow #139 – Burning the midnight oil

Shubham and I headed towards office cafeteria to have a cup of tea. I had not seen him for some time.

“Where were you last week”, I asked him.

“I was busy with an urgent delivery. Did not have time even for a tea-break”, Shubham said.

Shubham is a smart, intelligent, technical person and highly respected for his knowledge and experience. He never exaggerated anything. So, when he said that he did not have time even for a cup of tea, I realized that he must have been under serious time pressure.

“What happened? Last month too you had some urgent delivery and were burning midnight oil. This month also you are in the same situation?”

“Yes! As they say, history repeats! I am in the same situation. We are the internal IT department of our company. My manager who reports to the CEO gives me hard time. He gets urgent requirements from the CEO with an expectation that they be delivered in two weeks, when our optimistic estimate for that work is three to four weeks. So, we do not have any choice but to work extra hours and somehow make it happen.

Dear readers, Shubham needs to come out of this situation. What would be your advice to him?

Suggested Solution:

Retrospective is a powerful mechanism available to agile teams to improve their current state of practice. It seems Shubham’s team is not using this mechanism effectively, otherwise they would not be in the same situation again. So, I would advise Shubham to focus his attention there. The stress experienced by his team would have its impact on the delivery and would cause issues. These issues could be taken up in the retrospective and investigation of their root cause would lead to fundamental factors that eventually caused the issues. Shubham should facilitate highlighting the relevant facts to the stakeholders concerned and seek their help in fixing them. Make the relevant stakeholders part of the solution.

That said, team also should examine why their CEO demands more or faster output from them. What are the compulsions in the business environment that he is trying to address through his demands?   After having understood the business compulsions, the team should find out what could make highest difference to the situation and target delivering the same as first delivery. This prioritization exercise should be continued for all the user stories in the product backlog that may be taken up in all the sprints. This is the responsibility of the Product Owner. Once prioritized product backlog is available, through normal sprint planning exercise, team would decide on the scope to be delivered in each sprint and deliver it. Whatever delivered at the end of the sprint, should be usable by management/customers, addressing their high priority requirements. It is extremely necessary that the team delivers on the promises made.  Team must create a track record of meeting its commitments, on time and with quality. This kind of track record gives confidence to the management and customers and team is seen as dependable and worthy of trust. This is what Shubham should aim to achieve.

The above could be well facilitated by an agile coach. If Shubham has a coach assigned to his team, he should discuss the issue with his coach and seek his facilitation in addressing it. To summarize, the solution to this problem is to create one team. Managers and the team need to be together. Managers should understand team’s challenges and the team should be sensitive to the challenges in business environment. Together they should attack the business problems, enabling success of their organization!

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