Friday, January 13, 2017

The Expensive Fear of Forgetting

I sat through two meetings today that leave me thinking about product backlogs.

In the first one, we took a theme ('epic') and as a group brainstormed adding post-it notes to describe what would be needed, what would be needed first and what would be needed in general. The discussions provided a lot of shared understanding and clarity, and helped us identify a shared idea of how we are trying to prioritize things for value and risk. At the end there was a pile of post-its we had had the discussion around. I felt the meeting had been really good until someone said: "Now, let's take all these post-its and put them to Jira". I shrugged the unease off, let my mind relax and realized something about priorities around the principles we had grown to understand that again changed the overall plan. At this point the unease turned into frustration. If someone did take the "plan" to Jira, now someone needed to go and change the plan. Couldn't the shared understanding and the next step to work on be enough over the whole plan?

The second meeting was one clarifying a feature ('story') we had just pulled up as a thing to work on. The meeting focus was on identifying acceptance criteria, and again the discussions around the item helped us create a shared understanding, identify work to do between various parties and introduce people working on this to one another. The moment of unease happened again at the end as someone said: "now we need to go add all individual tasks to Jira and put the estimates in place". My team does not do estimates, we work with post-it notes on the wall and are doing pretty well with our Jira avoidance, taking discussions away from the writing and into the richer media.

Instead of improving the backlog practices, I work with my team to improve our collaboration and discovery, shared understanding of priorities and ability to release. Instead of asking "how long will it take", I work with them to figure out if there was a way we could deliver something smaller of value, first. And it is clear: in doing the work, we discover the work that needs doing. We need to focus on doing more of the next valuable thing, over creating a longer term view or details of promises in electronic format.

Sometimes, we are so afraid that we are forgetting, that we are ready to both invest in maintaining our lists (what a waste, in my experience) but also making our work shape so that there's less maintenance with less learning. Discovery is critical, and we pay high, hidden price when we create ways of working that don't encourage that in full.