Finish Things

In Lean, there's a lot of talk about reducing work in progress (WIP). It's interesting to me that even though it seems that Lean concepts have permeated the software industry, so many teams struggle with finishing things.

Speaking from the point of view of a developer, I can say that there's a real drag on morale when it feels like no one particularly cares about receiving the value of my work. Obvious bottlenecks in a team's process that persistently go unaddressed are not just a waste of money, they're a reason for people to check out. Add to this malaise the tedium of fixing the continuous merge conflicts that come when we create code branches that we can't merge for a long time. Ugh.

Some common impediments to finishing things:

  • Slow code reviews
  • Exhaustive manual testing
  • Distracted product owners

Slow code reviews

I've long been of the opinion that most code reviews are hardly worth the time spent on them by the reviewer and not worth the interruption to the flow of work that they cause. It's really hard to do good code reviews and it's a major bummer to wait a long time for someone to review your code only to get a rubber stamp. I like to call this "Quality Theater", where a checklist of procedures are half-heartedly (yet religiously) performed that don't actually improve the quality much. I would encourage teams to look at metrics in whichever code review system they use to see how long code reviews are taking, and how many significant changes to code occur as a result of the reviews. Be honest if they're resulting in long delays that usually end in a rubber stamp.

Exhaustive manual testing

If the team has dedicated QA people, is it taking a long time for work to make it through testing? Why? Is there a large amount of manual testing going on for every story? Can we automate more of the tests? Are stories hanging around in the "QA in Progress" stage waiting for clarification from the product owner about an edge case that's not really central to the story? Are stories being rejected by QA because of a small issue that does not detract from the value of the story?

Distracted product owners

Is the product owner plugged into the project fully and making it a priority? Are we waiting a long time for them to accept the work we've done? Are stories being held up because of ambiguous requirements where the team can't agree if they were met or not?

So how do we finish things faster? Other than recognizing the impediments above and having some earnest discussions about why they're occurring, there are some general concepts that apply broadly.

The common thread is in identifying what is our unit of "done"?

  • Make stories that are small increments of value
  • If a story is being held up because of a tricky aspect, consider splitting off the hard part and finishing the easier part cleanly
  • If we discover a story has a subset of the requirements that is contentious or poorly defined, can we finish the obvious part now and put a story in the backlog for the wishy-washy part?

The idea is to focus on finishing things. What is slowing down our process of getting units of value to "done"?