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Review Constraints before Projecting Desires


A fractal flower pattern
I find Scrum practices to be very self-similar at various scales of granularity. For example the Sprint appears to start with a planning sessions. Yet within the flow of a sprinting team the planning sessions actually starts with a Sprint Review and Process Retrospective and only then do we look into the future. So in the big picture, planning starts with review. Just like in the Scrum Standup meeting - the 3 questions - it starts with a review. What did you get done (past tense)? Next, what will you do (future tense)? And last, what impedes your progress (current tense)?

The Scrum Standup meeting has a flow of past, future, now. When laid out end to end sprints have a similar pattern: Review & Retro (past), followed by Planning (future), followed by sprinting or doing the work (every day, the now). This self similar pattern can be found in many of the Scrum practices. Practices that mature agile teams use to deliver working tested product increments in a few weeks. For example: the Release planning that many teams use to plan multiple sprints at a larger scale than the sprints, ideally starts with a review of the current project state and the path that lead to now. Scrum doesn't state prescriptively that a team must do release planning within the Scrum framework - yet many mature teams do this. And fewer teams do Release Retrospectives - yet the fractal nature of the pattern is very obviously missing, once you have started to see the self replicating patterns of simple rules that lead to complex behaviors.

So if the rule is to review before planning - what is another instance of this pattern?

In sprint planning, a common process flow is to review the velocity from last sprint and to project a future velocity to target for this sprint. The XPers called this the "Yesterday's Weather" pattern.

Woody - Toy StoryI call this capacity planning. And I've just learned that I'm confusing people by using this term. They are typically use to doing individual level capacity planning based upon some type of work hour commitment. Since we pay you for 8 hours, we expect 8 hours of work - myth. I realized today when Woody helped me to see my mistake. This organization has a known process called capacity planning. I suggest they do capacity planning in a team meeting called Sprint Planning. I assume it's understood that we plan at the level of a team, not at the granularity of an individual. This underlying misunderstood assumption is leading to confusion.

Team Capacity planning is much simpler than individual capacity planning. At the appropriate level of granularity it doesn't lead to dysfunctional behaviors. Behaviors like individual members trying to game the system of tracking performance to make themselves look better than another member that they are in competition with for a raise, position, bonus, etc.

So team level capacity planning is a review activity that should take place before the team forecasts a target velocity for Sprint Planning Part A (the What). This is a logical abstraction of reviewing constraints before projecting desires. When teams invert this practice they create a desire bias that will typically lead them to over commit. We all have lots of desire, regardless of our knowledge of constraints, hence the effectiveness of Christmas advertising.

So, please, start a practice of planning with the essential activity of a review.

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