All Aboard the Agile Release Train! But Wait. Where Are We Even Going?
Well, that’s a great question! While we love an adventure into the unknown every now and then, there’s nothing worse than boarding a train to nowhere, one of those slow, noisy, jolting trains that stop at every station, breaking your peaceful reverie. You board in a big fancy city and you end up broken down in a small village in the middle of who knows where. Nobody speaks your language, the food and drink cost a fortune and there’s no room at the inn. Everyone is angry, tired, and frustrated and you’re left wondering how the hell am I getting home from this?
Here at Rentouch, when we imagine our perfect journey we want to be sitting in a high-speed wonder train. The journey should be smooth with everyone sure of their desired destination. We can sit back and watch the world whizz by, chat with other passengers, and learn about their trip, safe in the knowledge that our captain and crew know exactly where we’re headed and are prepared for any trouble along the way. We want a train with a luxury first-class lounge that has free complimentary champagne and chocolate. For a train to run fast and smoothly, the crew needs to know a few things. They need to be aligned on resources, the direction of travel, and the destination. They need to know who’s on the crew and the unique skills that each member brings to the table. They need to know of any issues that might be on the track ahead, any blockers that might stop the train from taking off and they need to all be clear on the schedule. Perhaps most crucially, they need to know where the champagne and chocolate are stored (in case of emergency of course).
Today we’re talking about one of the most important parts of preparing a team for the kind of smooth journey that dreams are made of. That process is defining the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). This is where you come together as a team and determine which jobs should take priority. When you get your Weighted Shortest First Job planning done right and get the whole team on the same page, I promise it feels just like sitting in First Class, sipping champagne and eating chocolate. Ok, so maybe it’s not exactly the same and maybe there won’t be champagne and chocolate (although any managers reading this should seriously consider it *wink wink). But I promise you it really does make the whole process better for everyone. You can align your teams and make big decisions together. Everyone who is working on the project has the opportunity to plan the project and there is better communication with limited room for frustration and confusion.
Nailing the WSJF process is the key to ensuring that your team puts their effort where the most economic value is. By agreeing on a prioritization of jobs, your team's unique skill set will be used where it has the most value and their effort will be rewarded through completed projects and increased business value. Prioritisation is given to both the importance of the job to business value and the length of time it will take to complete. It is a collaborative approach to organizing team milestones, agreeing on task prioritization, and understanding blockers, risks, and dependencies.
To calculate the WSJF you can use this formula:
WSJF = Cost of Delay [ (User | Business value) + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction] ÷ Job Size
Let’s break that down a little further:
It’s easy to think that this kind of planning is most effective in face-to-face teams but cross-collaboration on distributed teams is something we’re passionate about at Rentouch. We believe that with the right tools, remote collaboration can be just as, if not more, effective than in-person. So passionate, in fact, that we built a whole solution around it.
On top of this, to help you refine your distributed working style, we have collaborated with some of the best remote-working and Agile experts the world has to offer. One of those experts is Ian J. Franks. Having spent over 30 years working and coaching Agile techniques, he knows a thing or two about the best processes and practices available. If you have 5 minutes to spare, I highly recommend checking out this video where he breaks down the WSJF process in a remote context. This man knows what’s up when it comes to planning so if you’re going to listen to anyone it’s gotta be him.
During our chat, Ian J. Franks gave some excellent tips on how to maintain cohesion within your team and keep spirits up:
Once you’ve done all that you might be wondering what’s next. Well, we’ll gladly tell you. Once you’ve ranked your WSJF you can load it into Jira and sync it to piplanning.io. which will automatically organize your jobs based on their WSJF ranking and from there it can easily be assigned to a team with the click of a button. The beauty of using piplanning.io is the distributed synchronization. The color-coded sticky notes, two-way mirroring, and ease with which you can enter data and link up teams allow you to collaborate as if you were in person. We’d argue that it’s better than in-person collaboration because all changes are tracked, and synchronization is immediate. So, say goodbye to lost sticky notes and random changes that no one signed off on. Each team can see who has been assigned to what task and can easily communicate and collaborate, assigning risks, dependencies and so much more. Piplanning.io allows you to maintain the creativity of in-person meetings while reducing the stress of them.
For Agile to work efficiently there are three T’s needed; The Team, The Technique, and The Tools. If you get all of these done well, then it’s child’s play from there on out. Leave the chaos in the past, pop the champagne, break off some chocolate and let the good times roll.
I think it’s vital to write another article on how you should prepare for the PI Planning event itself in remote conditions. Reaching out to dispersed collaborators can seem like a tricky process, but briefing with every group is key to staying safe in a distributed release train. Read on to get a grasp of our methods when it comes to communicating across teams and achieve the best possible alignment.
Everyone who’s a fan of paper sticky notes, who works in a Scrum or Kanban team and at the same time uses some ALM tool, has already thought about the optimal solution how these two worlds could be combined. Am I right? Now with one Scrum board of one team, the effort to keep it synchronized with an ALM tool is still manageable...