Stop Starting and Start Finishing

Ever run in a race or participated in a track meet? No matter how far the distance, when you cross the finish line, you’re done. It’s easy to understand and you don’t have to linger around, waiting for anything else to happen. What happens when you need to get an entire team across that finish line to complete the race, though?

Your star runner will likely lead the pack and then mill about impatiently, waiting for the rest of your group to finish up. Slower runners will trickle in, followed by those who decided “race” really meant “leisurely walk”. But if one runner on your team overslept or forgot to show, the rest of you will be stuck in limbo, waiting to be done and for that one last person to catch up. It’s frustrating and can keep everyone from moving on to their next task.

The same thing happens in the workplace when you approach that final day in the sprint. When you are working on a project and some components are completed, while some get stuck or bogged down in the early stages, everyone on the team ends up in limbo, waiting to move forward. The reason for working agile in the first place is to enhance speed, but if you overlook some of the components that are lagging behind, you’ll end up sitting around waiting impatiently at the end.

The Typical Sprint Scenario

In an organization new to Scrum, a typical two-week scrum sprint goes something like this: a week and a half or so of coding, and then finally a few days of testing, all at the end. If something goes wrong or is discovered during that testing, the waiting begins. While the sprint process is a fundamental part of agile, teams that wait until the end to finalize everything may encounter the frustration of seeing some key components head back for further review, or worse, not be completed in time at all.

The solution to this dilemma lies within the sprint itself – smaller, incremental batches can ensure that all components are making it through the process and nothing is being overlooked.

Getting Unstuck: Team Swarming Can Help

How can we get those tasks that lag behind to hurry up and finish the race already? Identifying these slow-movers and using small batch hand-offs to keep these laggers moving along allows every component to reach the finish line in the same time frame. This drastically reduces the amount of “hurry up and wait” your team is forced to do during a typical scrum sprint and ensures that your project is truly close to completion as you near the finish line.

Keeping the amount of work transferred from one person to the next when it comes to hand-offs ensures every team member can focus. Small batch hand-offs can allow for more rapid feedback between team members and ensure that those “slow moving” tasks don’t get stalled out completely. Incorporating team swarms that focus on a few small batch hand-offs at different points during the sprint can help prevent problems at the end.

Team Swarming

A team swarm can help move tasks along for a particular story and move it along from planning to design to actual coding and testing in an efficient and rapid manner. By swarming a specific issue and working together to get it “unstuck” the team can be sure that no one item will end up being a problem as testing begins. Identifying and resolving the impediment or issue at an early stage keeps the story moving towards the conclusion. Team swarming can also help those charged with testing the software to participate in earlier stages; this makes more efficient use of their time, since testers are often left with little to do in the early stages of a sprint.

Stop Starting – and Start Finishing

Swarming can resolve one of the most common issues for sprints; getting to the end with only one or two items done, and the rest still in progress. Since the sprint is only complete when all items are done, it makes sense to get to the finish line with 9 out of 10 items complete. You can then focus on bringing that last item or two to completion. When there are 5,6, or 7 items incomplete at the end of your sprint – it’s not really the “end” at all; you still have plenty left to do.

Team swarming can help you get to the end of your sprint with most items complete and ready; the best team to perform swarming activities is one with members that already know and work well together. A swarm works on the age-old adage that “many hands make light work” and the ideal small batch hand-off swarm would look like this:

Your team chooses a story from the backlog and gets to work. As the sprint progresses, team members hand over small batches of work to the next person in line to be checked. By handing off small batches instead of huge piles of content or data, the batch can be effectively tested, or the actions needed can be completed. The second member of the swarm has two options; complete the needed task and send the batch forward or sound the alarm, because the batch just isn’t quite right.

That alarm bell can trigger the collective team or the members most suited to help to address the issue and keep that particular component moving forward. By handing off in small batches, your team can effectively and efficiently either move your project forward or address any issues that are found. In this way, all components move steadily towards the end goal at the same time. The process is completed in small, sensible components and issues are addressed as they are discovered, and the entire project draws closer to completion.

After the sprint, your team ends up with most components complete and ready to go – and the entire team can then easily swarm the remaining task to bring it up to speed. Since errors and issues were addressed during the sprint itself, they can’t come up to impact your project at the end.

Heading back to our track meet scenario, the swarm prevents the problem of one team member who easily finishes the race (and ends up sitting around waiting) and others who never make it at all. Instead, your entire team clasps hands to stay together and help one another over obstacles. They all cross the finish line at the same time – resulting in a win for them and a win for your organization.

If your sprints just aren’t working out the way they should, or you feel like it’s only a sprint until the first task reaches the finish line, then incorporating a team swarm approach can help you move things along. This approach has other benefits as well; your teams become expert collaborators, end up trusting one another more and learn to communicate their needs effectively.

Done correctly a team swarm with small batch hand-offs could eliminate the issues you are experiencing in the final stages of a sprint and ensure your project ends as smoothly as it began. Need help getting agile? We’re here with the training and support you need every step of the way; contact us for help and to learn how to make the most of your resources for your upcoming projects.


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