Monday, August 17, 2015

Lean PPM step 6: more details on the demand

My last blog discussed the demand capacity game on a coarse grained level based on initiatives in our Kanban board. Initiatives with clear business goals are decomposed ongoing by the teams into epics and backlog items and implemented by the teams.

Pure organizational epics (without software development) are implemented by the functional departments, software is developed by the Scrum teams and all these activities within an initiative are coordinated by a person in the role of a project lead.

That reminds me to write an additional blog about the difference between a business analyst role and a project lead role – and the difference of the position of a business analyst and the position of a project lead; and for sure why we still use the role project lead. These differences and options of misunderstanding lead to many discussion at Digitec Galaxus – and in other companies as well. One reason for this is that an agile company does not know the position of a project lead. We established this position for some reason – but let’s wait until I write this blog.

But back to the demand capacity game. So far it looks like the Scrum teams work only on stories that result in decomposition of initiatives into epics and stories. We at Digitec Galaxus discovered at once that this does not work – at least for us. There is additional demand coming into the Scrum teams. One type of demand is fixing show stopper bugs at once. Another type of demand are small enhancements in any of our software systems requested by functional departments that would increase productivity fast with small effort. An example is the change of a default value in a dropdown, so our users save two clicks several hundreds of time a day. Using initiatives for this type of demand would be the hell of bureaucracy.

So demand flowing into engineering has additional input queues beside the queues represented by the initiative Kanban board. We discussed this and experimented a bit with a very simple solution addressing the input queues for work into engineering. The decision may sound scary for classical management, but luckily our management agreed to experiment. With some small correction the solution works good and found high overall acceptance in the functional departments, in engineering and by the executive management.

The solution is as simple as this: From 100% capacity of the engineering team, 60% are invested into initiatives, 20% are invested into fastlane items coming from functional departments and (!) 20% of the capacity is slack time.

Some explanations to these input queues:
  • The demand coming from initiatives is explained in my previous blog Lean PPM step 5: The demand – capacity game at Digitec /Galaxus. So read this blog to understand the mechanism.
  • Fastlane is an interesting mechanism to open functional departments a very lightweight, well defined but clearly throttled queue into engineering. All departments have the right to move items in this one queue. I will discuss the constraints on this queue in the following.
  • The most interesting mechanism: Slack time. Engineering decides completely autonomous about slack time consumption – with the one and only restriction: Show stopper bugs have to be fixed in slack time. This is a very keen mechanism to minimize the number of show stopper bugs. Show stopper bugs reduce the free slack time of engineering.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper into the fastlane and the slack time mechanism. First I present the fastlane queue.

I mentioned the fastlane mechanism already in my blog “The life cycle of an initiative – step 4”. Every functional department in our company owns a Kanban board to manage and work on their ideas. Everything that can be done within the department itself moves on this board from status “new” over “in progress” to “done”. The large things turn into initiatives and move to the status “idea approval required” to receive an OK or a declined from the innovation board. And there is a status we called “for engineering”. This lane represents the fastlane. In case the department encounters that an idea requires engineering to implement a small change, this item is moved into the “for engineering” fastlane. The fastlane for sure is prioritized as well. The most important small changes are on top.

As every department owns its own fastlane, you can clearly see a new problem: All fastlane issues from all departments compete for the 20% fastlane capacity of engineering. The question is: which issue to take from which department?! As we have seven departments, at every time seven issues are of top priority. We solved this problem as many problems should be solved: by a. a positive communication and b. by a clear assignment for a decision in case the positive communication does not end in a solution within a limited period of time. The communication partners are the subject matter experts of the departments (there is a subject matter expert in every department) together with the business analysts. The decision is assigned to the business analysts. In case the business analysts are not able to find an agreement (what did not happen so far) the head of business analysis takes the final decision.

In average we encounter that our Scrum teams are able to implement about eight to ten fastlane issues per sprint. So actually nobody has a real reason to be unhappy. On the other hand the positive communication between subject matter experts and business analysts creates a transparency about the needs of the departments. This results in a mutual understanding of the needs of departments. And yes, once – what a positive surprise – a department said “well we see, our need is not that important. It is obvious if we implement the need of the accounting first. That will end in a larger benefit for all of us”.

Interesting is for sure the discussion about slack time. Read my next blog for dis discussion.

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