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I smell a rat! Or is it just stinky cheese?

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  • faithbolliger.sanfran
    Hi, As a product owner, do you have advice on illuminating or correcting teams that have a tendency to low-ball their overall expected velocity and/or throw
    Message 1 of 10 , Oct 6, 2008
      Hi,

      As a product owner, do you have advice on illuminating or correcting teams that have a
      tendency to low-ball their overall expected velocity and/or throw bad (high) estimates at
      work they don't want to do?

      I am working on a project with all contract developers, some on and some offshore. This
      team has been working together since the beginning of the year so I feel that I have come
      to understand them very well. Also I have worked with some individuals on other projects
      over the past couple years and have gotten to know them & their behaviors well.

      It has become clear through many conversations that they like to work at a certain
      comfortable velocity and will do anything to maintain it. A short while ago we released a
      product and have entered a new year long phase of enhancements - 6 week releases to
      further build out the product. It was decided that the team should reconsider their
      velocity and ended up planning for a much lower velocity going forward. I agree with
      some of the reasons cited, such as personal and national holidays. But in general - I am
      confident that expectaitions are significantly lower that what they should be. I would be
      fine with as long as if/when they finish work early they continue to pick up more work.
      This is not the case. Moreover, I believe they intentionally discouraged doing more work
      because they will only estimate sprint stories until they reach their expected velocity and
      we only pick up work that has been estimated?

      Further, if there is a known feature that a particular dev does not like he will first
      challenge the heck out of it's value. In general I am fine with this, kicking the tires is
      good. However when the value to the user is demonstrated, I am guaranteed in the
      estimation and planning meetings he will continue to throw high numbers, just change his
      argument. On our team, we always plan with the highest number thrown. It's obvious his
      are high because on average he is lower than others and usually when he throws a high
      number relative to the others it is notably high. Typically this has the effect of
      discouraging the sponsor to prioritize this work and/or we are forced to look for less
      optimal experiences that are technically easier to develop.

      I feel like this team is steering to product not to deliver value but to maintain comfort.

      Suggestions?
      fb
    • Jon Kern
      Wow. I am sure it is hard to describe an entire team culture and experience in an email. But it sure sounds like you have quite a fun challenge. Gulp.
      Message 2 of 10 , Oct 6, 2008
        Wow. I am sure it is hard to describe an entire team culture and
        experience in an email. But it sure sounds like you have quite a fun
        challenge. Gulp.

        Developers challenging the value of a business request?
        - maybe your requests are too solution-oriented (versus business) and
        the developer has a valid point?
        - maybe the developer needs to be sat down and told to fly right or get out?
        - somewhere in between?

        Plan for a lower velocity?
        - because you routinely over-chose issues and always have 50% completion
        rates?
        - because you worked them to the bone, requiring 60 hour weeks for 12
        months and they are burnt out?

        Why do you think they are "low-balling" their estimates? How do you
        measure whether something seems out of whack?

        Let's assume you have a dysfunctional team... you could
        - raise it in a team setting and have a group discussion to get to the
        bottom of the issue
        - bring in some new blood that you trust to be exceedingly competent
        - bring in an outside observer to go through the various "sides" and
        gather intel
        (I always love conducting these sorts of "software therapy" sessions.)
        - fire/reassign one or two posers and see if the others snap to attention

        Could you be misconstruing their "push back?" Maybe it is justified
        because of aspects they have not been able to properly share with you?

        Maybe you could try to do more group estimating... so others might
        challenge estimation assumptions -- not just you.

        All I can say is that what you experience sounds real. I wouldn't put up
        with it. I would either figure out if it was me, the business, the
        process, or the developers -- and try to resolve the issues. Otherwise,
        nobody is having that much fun...

        jon


        blog: TechnicalDebt.com <http://technicaldebt.com>
        View Jon Kern's profile <http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonkern>


        faithbolliger.sanfran said the following on 10/6/08 2:47 PM:
        >
        > Hi,
        >
        > As a product owner, do you have advice on illuminating or correcting
        > teams that have a
        > tendency to low-ball their overall expected velocity and/or throw bad
        > (high) estimates at
        > work they don't want to do?
        >
        > I am working on a project with all contract developers, some on and
        > some offshore. This
        > team has been working together since the beginning of the year so I
        > feel that I have come
        > to understand them very well. Also I have worked with some individuals
        > on other projects
        > over the past couple years and have gotten to know them & their
        > behaviors well.
        >
        > It has become clear through many conversations that they like to work
        > at a certain
        > comfortable velocity and will do anything to maintain it. A short
        > while ago we released a
        > product and have entered a new year long phase of enhancements - 6
        > week releases to
        > further build out the product. It was decided that the team should
        > reconsider their
        > velocity and ended up planning for a much lower velocity going
        > forward. I agree with
        > some of the reasons cited, such as personal and national holidays. But
        > in general - I am
        > confident that expectaitions are significantly lower that what they
        > should be. I would be
        > fine with as long as if/when they finish work early they continue to
        > pick up more work.
        > This is not the case. Moreover, I believe they intentionally
        > discouraged doing more work
        > because they will only estimate sprint stories until they reach their
        > expected velocity and
        > we only pick up work that has been estimated?
        >
        > Further, if there is a known feature that a particular dev does not
        > like he will first
        > challenge the heck out of it's value. In general I am fine with this,
        > kicking the tires is
        > good. However when the value to the user is demonstrated, I am
        > guaranteed in the
        > estimation and planning meetings he will continue to throw high
        > numbers, just change his
        > argument. On our team, we always plan with the highest number thrown.
        > It's obvious his
        > are high because on average he is lower than others and usually when
        > he throws a high
        > number relative to the others it is notably high. Typically this has
        > the effect of
        > discouraging the sponsor to prioritize this work and/or we are forced
        > to look for less
        > optimal experiences that are technically easier to develop.
        >
        > I feel like this team is steering to product not to deliver value but
        > to maintain comfort.
        >
        > Suggestions?
        > fb
        >
        >
      • William Pietri
        Hi, Faith! Good to hear from you. Let me answer your two questions in separate posts. ... I think the bad estimates should be pretty easy to fix. There I d use
        Message 3 of 10 , Oct 6, 2008
          Hi, Faith! Good to hear from you. Let me answer your two questions in
          separate posts.

          faithbolliger.sanfran wrote:
          > Further, if there is a known feature that a particular dev does not like he will first
          > challenge the heck out of it's value. In general I am fine with this, kicking the tires is
          > good. However when the value to the user is demonstrated, I am guaranteed in the
          > estimation and planning meetings he will continue to throw high numbers, just change his
          > argument. On our team, we always plan with the highest number thrown. It's obvious his
          > are high because on average he is lower than others and usually when he throws a high
          > number relative to the others it is notably high.
          >

          I think the bad estimates should be pretty easy to fix. There I'd use
          one of the Delphi method variants:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method

          The one I normally use is Planning Poker:

          http://www.planningpoker.com/detail.html

          In particular, I'd require that the team come to consensus on an
          estimate. If after a few rounds they can't, then have them explicitly
          identify the core of the disagreement, and give them explicit research
          time to resolve the difference. If everybody has to agree, they'll
          challenge one another's estimates, and I'm sure you won't be the only
          one to catch onto this pattern.


          William
        • William Pietri
          ... I m sure there are a lot of approaches to this, but here are the ones that occur to me. I m sure there will be plenty of answers here, but I can think of
          Message 4 of 10 , Oct 6, 2008
            faithbolliger.sanfran wrote:
            > [...] do you have advice on illuminating or correcting teams that have a
            > tendency to low-ball their overall expected velocity [...]



            I'm sure there are a lot of approaches to this, but here are the ones
            that occur to me. I'm sure there will be plenty of answers here, but I
            can think of six actions to take:


            The first thing I'd look at is the physical arrangement of the people.
            Put the product manager(s) and the developers (at least the local ones)
            all in the same physical space. Everybody should be able to see
            everybody else, and be able to get attention with little more than a
            wave or a slightly raised voice.

            Then I'd consider shifting to using relative estimates and Yesterday's
            Weather as a technique for deciding how much work to take on. Keep an
            estimated backlog of at least two iterations worth of work, and feel
            free to ask for more estimates as needed to have a clear plan.

            Third, I'd use short iterations. With a six-week release cycle, I'd go
            with one- or two-week iterations. Preferably one.

            Fourth, I'd look at why they might be sandbagging. That can be an
            adaptive behavior in many circumstances. If they are in one of them, you
            have to fix that first. And if they just picked the habit up elsewhere,
            they may need support in unlearning that.

            Fifth, consider whether business-side expectations for the team's
            productivity are too high. Maybe 80% of the teams I evaluate have a
            business-side fear that developers aren't productive enough, and the
            number one response to that is to get people to work more hours. This is
            rarely effective, and usually counterproductive, sometimes drastically so.

            And lastly, find ways to get developers to share your motivations. If
            they're doing work just because somebody tells them to, they won't be
            fully engaged. Instead, get them interested in solving the problems you
            want to solve. Help them to care about the things you care about. Then
            they'll be looking for ways to be more productive on their own, without
            external prodding.


            Feel free to ask if you'd like more detail on any of these.


            William
          • aacockburn
            Fabulous answers, William --- much better than I could have come up with! - cheers - Alistair
            Message 5 of 10 , Oct 6, 2008
              Fabulous answers, William --- much better than I could have
              come up with!
              - cheers -
              Alistair
            • Dave Rooney
              William Pietri wrote: [snip] ... At one client, the effect of having the business people co-located with the developers resulted in a business analyst
              Message 6 of 10 , Oct 7, 2008
                William Pietri wrote:

                [snip]

                > Fifth, consider whether business-side expectations for the team's
                > productivity are too high. Maybe 80% of the teams I evaluate have a
                > business-side fear that developers aren't productive enough, and the
                > number one response to that is to get people to work more hours. This is
                > rarely effective, and usually counterproductive, sometimes drastically so.
                >

                At one client, the effect of having the business people co-located with
                the developers resulted in a business analyst commenting on just how
                much work went into implementing a single story. She knew there was
                work, but when the developers enumerated the tasks required she was
                quite surprised at just how much.

                Yet another reason to co-locate - TRUST! :)

                Dave Rooney
                Mayford Technologies
                "Helping you become AGILE... to SURVIVE and THRIVE!"
                http://www.mayford.ca
                http://practicalagility.blogspot.com
              • faithbolliger.sanfran
                Hi William Thanks for your thoughtfulness. ... We do use planning poker, although the team does not like Fibonacci count and have settled on a system of .5, 1,
                Message 7 of 10 , Oct 8, 2008
                  Hi William
                  Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

                  You said:
                  > I think the bad estimates should be pretty easy to fix. There I'd use
                  > one of the Delphi method variants:
                  >
                  > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method
                  >
                  > The one I normally use is Planning Poker:
                  >
                  > http://www.planningpoker.com/detail.html
                  >
                  > In particular, I'd require that the team come to consensus on an
                  > estimate. If after a few rounds they can't, then have them explicitly
                  > identify the core of the disagreement, and give them explicit research
                  > time to resolve the difference. If everybody has to agree, they'll
                  > challenge one another's estimates, and I'm sure you won't be the only
                  > one to catch onto this pattern.

                  We do use planning poker, although the team does not like Fibonacci count and have
                  settled on a system of .5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

                  On a side note: I continuously struggle to understand this in terms of real time, it's total
                  felt experience for me. Particularly towards the end of the release when there are scraps
                  of work to be done I feel as if our units of measurement are unhelpful. My lead tech will
                  talk about the need to give each individual story a measurement even if it doesn't seem
                  worthy of say .5 because the sponsor needs to know there is a "cost".

                  This perspective of everything having a cost, feels more like stick than carrot (value).

                  Back to issue at hand: So the dev team collectively throws estimates in our planning
                  sessions, but as a rule of thumb we take the highest estimate. I do see devs challenge
                  each other occasionally but not often. In cases of one specific tech lead, if this person
                  doesn't like a story he will continue to throw high numbers. I have noticed a pattern that
                  kills further discussion, the dev will say "well it still think there is complexity we aren't
                  seeing and therefore I am not comfortable with anything lower than X pts".

                  I would like to change this rule of thumb that we go with the highest estimate. Do others
                  have this policy?

                  fb
                • faithbolliger.sanfran
                  William - More great feedback on co-location, sprint cycle, hours, business expectations and shared team goals/motivation. Unfortunately our teams are not
                  Message 8 of 10 , Oct 8, 2008
                    William - More great feedback on co-location, sprint cycle, hours, business expectations
                    and shared team goals/motivation.

                    Unfortunately our teams are not co-located, we are in 4 different locations. And there is
                    no actual daily overlap between 2 of those locations, except for sprint planning.

                    We are on a 2 week sprint cycle, we used to do 1 week sprints which I liked but the devs
                    felt it required too much work to get build stable, too much time required to prep for the
                    demo and hence we had loads of hangover. To some degree we have less hangover. And
                    we have worked hard to get the team to understand the demos need not be so formal, etc.

                    The devs are working 40 hours if not less. We are a team of outsourced and offshore
                    partners plus some onshore distributed contractors. I know the contractors have other
                    clients and am confident this is some of the drain on velocity at times. I have traveled to
                    work at our offshore partners location and know they keep 40 hours plus time during the
                    day is playful. I don't think we are overworking them.

                    Business expectations are probably misaligned. Although after 9 months now with this
                    team, expectations have been significantly lowered. In my opinion, to the detriment of the
                    team.

                    How do others get outsourced, offshore, distributed teams to motivate? I could get better
                    at motivating!

                    What is the success rate for a distributed, outsourced team models?

                    fb
                  • marjoriepries
                    ... terms of real time, it s total ... release when there are scraps ... unhelpful. My lead tech will ... even if it doesn t seem ... a cost . ... Everything
                    Message 9 of 10 , Oct 8, 2008
                      --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "faithbolliger.sanfran"
                      <faith.bolliger.ny@...> wrote:
                      >
                      >

                      > On a side note: I continuously struggle to understand this in
                      terms of real time, it's total
                      > felt experience for me. Particularly towards the end of the
                      release when there are scraps
                      > of work to be done I feel as if our units of measurement are
                      unhelpful. My lead tech will
                      > talk about the need to give each individual story a measurement
                      even if it doesn't seem
                      > worthy of say .5 because the sponsor needs to know there is
                      a "cost".
                      >

                      Everything that takes time to do, does have a cost. I'm guessing
                      these things you call "scraps of work" are tasks necessary to
                      get "release-ready" but maybe task lines are being drawn too finely
                      in order to have something that looks like a "story." If so, then
                      perhaps certain things could be grouped together under traditional
                      PMO-sounding tags so that they have more weight and visibility.
                      Without hard examples of these things you call "scraps" I'm not sure.
                      Maybe even some old-fasioned bug logging and tracking would resolve
                      it.


                      > This perspective of everything having a cost, feels more like stick
                      than carrot (value).
                      >
                      > Back to issue at hand: So the dev team collectively throws
                      estimates in our planning
                      > sessions, but as a rule of thumb we take the highest estimate. I
                      do see devs challenge
                      > each other occasionally but not often. In cases of one specific
                      tech lead, if this person
                      > doesn't like a story he will continue to throw high numbers. I
                      have noticed a pattern that
                      > kills further discussion, the dev will say "well it still think
                      there is complexity we aren't
                      > seeing and therefore I am not comfortable with anything lower than
                      X pts".
                      >
                      > I would like to change this rule of thumb that we go with the
                      highest estimate. Do others have this policy?
                      >
                      > fb
                      >

                      We don't go with the highest estimate. We go with the consensus or
                      most frequent estimate. That means we have a discussion about the
                      extremes. Can your tech lead get more specific, in a general way,
                      about his/her concerns? That is, can they enumerate aspects of the
                      card and relate them to previous examples or projects where surprises
                      happened? Perhps a trained facilitator could help with that.

                      And is it important that they get more specific? What I mean is, if
                      the track record for every card where they've voted high has
                      generally proven to have hidden complexity, then as a member of the
                      team, I am going to stop niggling over every card where this happens
                      and vote with the expert knowing that in time I'll experience what
                      he/she suspected and be better able to smell the smells and
                      articulate the concerns myself.

                      A lot of times, teams that have been together long function this way
                      because it's just more efficient to stop talking and start working.
                    • William Pietri
                      Hi, Faith. Great questions. Do you have any data handy? For example, I d love to see the velocities in each of the iterations for the last release. And maybe
                      Message 10 of 10 , Oct 8, 2008
                        Hi, Faith. Great questions.

                        Do you have any data handy? For example, I'd love to see the velocities in each of the iterations for the last release. And maybe the individual story estimates from a typical iteration and one you think was off, like that bit right before release?

                        Thanks,

                        William

                        faithbolliger.sanfran wrote:
                        Hi William 
                        Thanks for your thoughtfulness.  
                        
                        You said:
                          
                        I think the bad estimates should be pretty easy to fix. There I'd use 
                        one of the Delphi method variants:
                        
                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method
                        
                        The one I normally use is Planning Poker:
                        
                            http://www.planningpoker.com/detail.html
                        
                        In particular, I'd require that the team come to consensus on an 
                        estimate. If after a few rounds they can't, then have them explicitly 
                        identify the core of the disagreement, and give them explicit research 
                        time to resolve the difference. If everybody has to agree, they'll 
                        challenge one another's estimates, and I'm sure you won't be the only 
                        one to catch onto this pattern.
                            
                        We do use planning poker, although the team does not like Fibonacci count and have 
                        settled on a system of .5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
                        
                        On a side note:  I continuously struggle to understand this in terms of real time, it's total 
                        felt experience for me.   Particularly towards the end of the release when there are scraps 
                        of work to be done I feel as if our units of measurement are unhelpful.  My lead tech will 
                        talk about the need to give each individual story a measurement even if it doesn't seem 
                        worthy of say .5 because the sponsor needs to know there is a "cost".  
                        
                        This perspective of everything having a cost, feels more like stick than carrot (value).
                        
                        Back to issue at hand:  So the dev team collectively throws estimates in our planning 
                        sessions, but as a rule of thumb we take the highest estimate.  I do see devs challenge 
                        each other occasionally but not often.  In cases of one specific tech lead, if this person 
                        doesn't like a story he will continue to throw high numbers.  I have noticed a pattern that 
                        kills further discussion, the dev will say "well it still think there is complexity we aren't 
                        seeing and therefore I am not comfortable with anything lower than X pts". 
                        
                        I would like to change this rule of thumb that we go with the highest estimate.  Do others 
                        have this policy?
                        
                        fb
                        
                        
                        
                        
                        
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