High Performance Teams: Definitions of Done, Effective Backlogs, Agile, Tools Orientation matter
by Ron Lichty
Study of Product Team Performance center around Definitions of Done, Requirements Backlogs, Agile, and Tools and Automation.
While it should seem as no surprise, team Definitions of Done matter - not only teams having one, but who creates it. Product teams that do not have (or do not know they have) a definition of done don’t perform well, we learned this year from the 2016 Study of Product Team Performance, our fifth annual global study of product teams.
But while not having a Definition of Done negatively correlates with performance, just having one doesn’t correlate with high performance. And that part may be the surprise. Externally written / externally imposed definitions of done don’t move the needle. Only organizations in which team members themselves create their definition of done - teams that have the team’s own product owner draft it or teams that develop a clear definition of done collectively - correlate with the highest performing teams.
While it should also seem no surprise, this year’s Study showed that effective backlog prioritization matters, too. Product teams that effectively prepare and prioritize their backlog of work correlate with teams performing at the highest levels. Conversely, teams that report their backlog is a jumble are negatively correlated to high performance - that is, they are unlikely to perform well.
What was disturbing was to see 37.9% of respondents report that their backlog is a jumble!
Other factors we found this year that correlate to high performance:
- Teams that see a connection between Agile/Scrum and higher product profitability perform better
- Teams that call out tools and automation as a route to increased effectiveness perform better
As part of each year’s survey, we have also asked about development methods. This year, for the first time, teams using agile (48% scrum, 4% kanban) exceeded those using all other methods combined. And when combining teams using agile with teams using blends of agile and waterfall (31.9%), 84% of teams use enough agile practices for respondents to call themselves out as at least partially agile! (Teams using blends of agile and waterfall this year fell from over half, five years ago, and hovering not far below half in subsequent years, to below a third this year; the downward trend of teams claiming waterfall continued, to less than 9% this year, from 18% reported five years ago.) Remarkably, while agile use rose dramatically, teams identifying Agile as the route to product profitability continue to exceed those actually using agile. Agile’s value was and is widely recognized.
What else did we learn? When we asked respondents what would improve the effectiveness of their product team, the standout answer, at 45% of respondents, was “improved cross-department communication”; product development is fundamentally a team sport. Almost 60% of respondents report that their companies leverage distributed teams outside their country. For good or bad - and we didn’t see a correlation either way - more than two-fifths of first level engineering managers code. A quarter of first level engineering managers act as scrum master for their teams. Eleven percent of teams still have no product management. Nearly half of all respondents (48.2%) indicated that their organizations have no formal system or process for tracking, developing, and managing ideas from their employees, customers, and suppliers.
The Study of Product Team Performance is a self-reporting one. Team members are asked to identify if they experience their team as high performing and to share their experiences and approaches. This year 43% of respondents - the highest percentage in the five-year history of the study - said their teams were consistently delivering solid performance.
Returning to the four new factors that this year’s statistical analysis correlated with high performance teams, there is significant discrepancy between those factors and the numbers of teams actually achieving those factors:
- only 45% of respondents report definitions of done created within their teams (they told us 15% are created by teams’ product owners, 30% by the team collectively; the good news: only 7.4% said they have no definition of done at all)
- only 43.5% of respondents said their team’s backlog is effectively prioritized
- only 32.4% of respondents recognized the connection between tools and automation, and effectiveness
Download the free 2016 Study of Product Team Performance - the earlier studies are no longer available, but you can, there, also take a look at my own short summaries that capture their high points.
It’s been intriguing and sometimes truly incisive stuff that we’ve learned. Thanks to all of you who share what you’re doing each year; downloading the study gets you an invite to participate in next year’s study. Many thanks to lead author Greg Geracie and my co-contributing-author Matt Jackson. And special thanks to this year’s study sponsors, ProjectConnections, Accelerance and Planbox!