Agile requires you to operate sprints in which you add tasks using up story points or hours that equal the total available capacity for your team. Each sprint has some overhead as you must meet and discuss what items will make the sprint and you must meet after the sprint meet to do a retrospective.
For us, setting the sprint duration too long meant too much time before we could reset priorities. Setting the sprint too short meant too much overhead. We settled on a two week sprint process with a one day turn around to close out the old sprint in the morning then start the new sprint in the afternoon. I am writing this on Friday morning. My midday we will have closed out the last sprint and by mid afternoon we will have started the new sprint.
This has been interesting for me. The process has forced me to spend one day out of 10 doing nothing but planning and making sure the various teams are heading in the right direction. It seems like a lot, but the advantage of it is that for the remaining 9 days, we are just executing the plan. In fact, new tasks that come in we just delay since they generally won’t fit in the existing sprint.
At this writing we have probably worked through about 10 sprints of two weeks each. Having done this, we are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. The total number of hours the team works each sprint has varied tremendously as we decide what needs to be in the sprint and what doesn’t need to be included. Time spent in status meetings, for example, needs to be accounted for. For this accounting of sprint overhead and other weekly administrative tasks, we just assign a block of hours each sprint to each person for these tasks.
Over commitment of work is perhaps the biggest issue we have seen in the process. The team is motivated, they want to get a lot done, but work always takes longer than we like. So over commitment to tasks continues to be a big problem.
Finally, the sprint process is starting to provide an operating discipline to our work. People are getting used to turning away urgent, but not important work that was not in a sprint. For urgent and important work not included in the sprint, the discussion is forced around what can be delayed. This is really critical as marketing many times get tasked with urgent work that is not important to long term objectives. In addition, tasking via email has also been eliminated. If you want something done, we request you put in Jira for consideration. This discipline keeps people focused on assigned tasks.
The system isn’t perfect, but it is better than where we were.
I will provide an update on this process in another six months and how we are integrating growth hacking into our sprint process.