I seem to spend a lot of time in traffic these days, thanks to Austin’s ridiculously fast growth. Which means I keep on finding driving analogies to write about….
I was in a project meeting the other day, the second one in two weeks where key people were not able to attend and the meeting fizzled and had to be rescheduled. This is symptomatic of the holiday season, when so many people are finally using up their hoarded vacation days. But sometimes, and not just because of the holidays, projects run into traffic jams or slowdowns. There are times when the team seems to falter, the engine idles, and the momentum disappears. If you’re staring down a deadline or trying to work out a knotty requirements problem, this can be really frustrating. It feels like you’re trying to push a string across the floor.
So, instead of just scheduling another meeting and hoping this one goes better than the last two, what should I do differently? As I hung up the phone and pondered my next move, I was reminded of one of my daughter’s favorite toys, a puzzle game called Traffic Jam. To play, you arrange little plastic cars on a grid, and then slide the cars forwards or backwards in an attempt to free the red car from the jam. She’s a whiz at this game, but I find it challenging. In order to win, you have to be able to work backwards from the desired result. This can require 5 or more moves that must be accomplished in order to clear the path. A lot more moves if you just start randomly shoving cars around, which technique I have been guilty of attempting.
So, let me apply a bit more systematic way of identifying the causes of my project jam and clearing the path. What our team needs to do is to ensure that our backlog is complete, that the two teams who are working on development are synched up, to assign points to our backlog, and to assign user stories to sprints. We’ve had some really good backlog grooming sessions, so we’re well on our way. What’s blocking us from moving forward?
Well, for one thing, we have a lot of people who are involved with this process, but only a few of them can make decisions about the backlog. For another thing, one of the two teams seems to be more engaged than the other at this point. And lastly, it seems that the team members aren’t completely clear on what they should be doing to help accomplish our goals.
So, how can I help fix this? The first problem could be improved by identifying the key decision makers so that meetings include the people who need to be there and not just a pile of folks who are interested but not necessary for the task at hand. To address the second problem, I probably need to talk to the team that is less engaged to find out what their roadblocks are. They have a lot of other conflicting priorities which may mean that my requirements just need to wait. To help with point number three, I could personally comb through the backlog and identify specific issues which need resolution. This will save the team time and allow them to focus their energy where it will be the most useful.
Hm. Interesting how much you can learn from a child’s game!