Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Delay your project, protect your future

One of the dangers of Agile is that teams are so busy sprinting and delivering potentially shippable projects, that they forget to invest in becoming more productive in the future.

Let's use some basic economics to illustrate this problem.  Assume your team has a top productivity of X. It doesn't matter the unit you pick - story points per iteration, function points per month -  but let's assume your team cannot produce more than X.

Now, one of the things you can do with productivity is move it around. For instance, google allows employees to invest part of their work week on pet projects. So if we put that on a vertical axis, we get something like this:

This curve is called a Production Possibility Frontier, or PPF, and it represents your team's limit in terms of productivity. This means the only way you'll make your team more productive is by moving the PPF! And the way to achieve this is through investment.

You may argue that google pet projects are an investment, but what I mean is direct investment in improving productivity. For instance, you could invest in improving your QA infrastructure, so that developers don't spend so much time building and fixing tests. Or you could invest in tools to improve your overall capacity to deliver, like the OutSystems' Agile Platform. (disclaimer, I work for OutSystems! ;).

When you do this type of investment, the end result is that you move the PPF to the right, therefore increasing your team's capacity to deliver.

Easy, right? So why isn't everybody doing these investments and increasing their productivity? Why do we meet so many inefficient teams and R&D departments?

Turns out there is a catch. These improvements are not continuous, and work in leaps. This means you need to go all the way to see the results of your investment. If you study a new tool for a couple of weeks and stop the investigation before something actionable comes out of the study, you're just throwing your time and money out the window...

But guess what happens as soon as a the project stars to slip? We choose the short term solution, and increase the productivity of the team at the expense of our investment.

Standing up to your stakeholders and delaying a milestone to protect your future is the hard part in making your team more productive. And I hope this short post gives you a bit of ammunition to go in the right direction! :)