Saturday, May 30, 2020

High Performance Teams Know Where They’re Headed
by Ron Lichty


Our 2019 Study of Product Team Performance, released this month, reveals that high performance teams tend to work from backlogs more than three months long. And those teams have sized all of their backlog’s features, epics and stories, not just the stories selected for the next iteration.

Each Study of Product Team Performance - this is the sixth study we’ve undertaken - surveys team members on thousands of product teams around the world, asking them to characterize their team’s performance - high performing, low performing, or something in between - and to share their experiences and approaches. Our data analyst then looks for and identifies correlations between practices and team performance.

This year’s study - based on our survey that wrapped up in December - identified six practices and characteristics that highly correlate with high performance teams:
  • awareness of and alignment with their company’s business strategy (only a quarter of teams!)
  • accountability to customer satisfaction targets (barely more than half)
  • innovation process maturity company-wide (less than 10% report their companies are mature)
  • product managers spend at least 30 percent of their time in the field (only 11 percent do)
  • using profitability as a criterion to prioritize requirements (less than two-fifths do)
  • sizing all of the stories in a requirements backlog that is sufficient in size to represent more than three months’ effort (less than a fifth do)

The question we asked in the survey about the latter:
Do individual contributors size all the stories or requirements in the backlog or just those that have been selected for the next iteration?


Reading the chart from the right, the answers revealed that almost 16% of teams don’t size their stories at all. Sadly, 17.9% have only an iteration or two of stories in their backlog at any time. Two-thirds have quarter-plus-length backlogs, but only 17% size that entire backlog up front.

What stunned us were the correlations:
    ▪    the 17% that had quarter-plus-length backlogs and sized the whole backlog correlated with the highest performing teams
    ▪    the teams with only a sprint or two of stories in their backlogs correlated with the lowest performing teams

To the low-performing teams, clearly product managers and product owners providing their teams with a bare minimum of stories are struggling. By barely staying ahead of their teams’ development capacity, product people aren’t providing enough stories to be able to ensure the team is focused on the highest value work, there’s no ROI-based stack-ranking to be had, they’re likely guessing with regard to what to do next, and stories are likely not well-formed with their acceptance criteria likely incomplete.

To the high-performing teams, we have no way of knowing that they’re using low-cost, no-waste estimating techniques like Steve Bockman’s relative sizing method (also known as snaking, laddering, and the team estimation game). In fact, sizing a quarter-plus backlog seems counter-intuitive given we all know that few teams deliver much more than half of a backlog that long, what with estimates being guesstimates and particularly the introduction of new work and adjustments to work incumbent from getting early feedback and iteratively delivering the highest-value increments of the product.

But given the correlation with high performance, it’s clear that the cost of sizing the whole backlog is offset by product managers being able to fold size impacts into their thinking. They’re able to avoid the waste of stack-ranking unreasonably costly stories at the top of the backlog. And given that relative sizing takes less than half a day and doubles as an exercise during chartering to familiarize the team with where product managers think development needs to be headed, sizing the entire backlog can be a low-cost entry point to high performance.

Take a look at all of our survey results - and at the six correlations with high performance - by getting a copy of the study itself. My own web page devoted to the Study of Product Team Performance has a pointer to the study just released - pointers to several earlier ones - and summaries of all the earlier studies.

There are also callouts to correlations we found in each previous year’s Study of Product Team Performance specific to software development performance, among them these practices and characteristics that correlate with high performance teams:
    ▪    definitions of done crafted by the team
    ▪    effective standups held daily
    ▪    standout team onboarding
    ▪    quality product management
    ▪    cross-functional collaboration and trust

Read more!

1 Comments:

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