Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bad Trends and Sloppy Velocity

Read this:

There are good quotes from Ron Jeffries on the worthlessness of story points. (I've heard this from other Agile Consultants, also.) Story Points are a political hack to make management stop measuring the future.

The future is very hard to measure. The difficulty in making predictions is one of the things which distinguishes the future from the past. There's entropy, and laws of thermodynamics, and random quantum events that make it hard to determine exactly what might happen next.

If Schrödinger's cat is alive, we'll deliver this feature in this sprint. If the cat is dead, the feature will be delayed. The unit test result is entangled with the photon that may (or may not) have killed the cat. If you check the unit tests, then the future is determined. If you don't check the unit test, the future can be in any state.

When project management becomes Velocity Dashboard Centered (VDC™), that's a hint that something may be wrong.

My suspicion on the cause of VDC?

Product Owners ("Management") may have given up on Agility, and want to make commitments to a a schedule they made up on a whiteboard at an off-site meeting. Serious Commitments. The commitment has taken on a life of its own, and deliverable features aren't really being prioritized. The cadence or tempo has overtaken the actual deliverable.

It feels like the planning has slipped away from story-by-story details.

What can cause VDC?

I think it might be too many layers of management. The PO's boss (or boss's boss) has started dictating some kind of delivery schedule that is uncoupled from reality. The various bosses up in the stratosphere are making writing checks their teams can't cash.

What can we do?

I don't know. It's hard to provide schooling up the food chain to the boss of the boss of the product owner. It's hard to explain to the scrum master that the story points don't much matter, since the stories exist independent of any numbering scheme.

The link above says that there's some value in ordering the stories; assigning random-ish point numbers somehow helps order them.

I reject the last part of this. The stories can be ordered without any numbers. The Agile manifesto is pretty clear on this point: talk about it. The points don't enhance the conversation. Push the story cards around on the board until you have something meaningful. Assigning numbers is silliness.

Actually. I think its harmful.

Rolling numbers up to "senior" management isn't facilitating a conversation. It's summarizing things with empty numerosity. ("Numerosity"? Yes. Empty numerosity: applying numeric methods inappropriately. For example, averaging the day of the week on which it rains, for example, to discover something about Wednesday.)

The Best Part (TBP™)


On Project X, we had a velocity of 50 Story Points per Sprint. On Project U, the "same" team -- someone quit and two new people were hired -- had a velocity of 100 Story Points per Sprint. Wow! Right?

Except. Of course, the numbers were inflated because the existing folks figured the new folks would take longer to get things done. But the new folks didn't take longer. And now the team is stuck calling a 3-point story a 5-point story because the new guys are calibrated to that new range of random numbers.

So what's comparable between the "same" team on two projects? It's not actually the same people. That's out.

We can try to pretend that the projects have the "same" technology (Java 1.6 v. Java 1.8) or the same CI/CD pipeline (Ant v. Maven, Hudson v. Jenkins) or even the same overall enterprise. But practically, there's nothing repeatable about any of it. It's just empty numerosity.

Sorry. I'm not sold, yet, on the value of Story Points.

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