How to keep The Galaxy at Peace

3 March 2011

Sergey Dmitriev
Unusual Concepts

I am helping a client with their agile transition. This large company has been through a series of reorganizations.  They have been experimenting with different processes like Scrum, Kanban and XP for a couple of years, and at the moment I got invited, I found people being disoriented with yet another reorganization, with  a new organizational chart, new roles and job titles and unclear responsibilities between those people who fell between the chairs.
 
I had to find a creative and quick way to explain to many people where they fit in the new organization. The old order was already destroyed before I got in, frustrations were rising, so there was no time to take it department by department, explaining role by role, and work slowly with all the people involved. That´s how I ended up telling people The Story. The Story of The Galaxy in Peace.

It’s just two hemispheres.

Once upon a time there was a Galaxy with planet Earth among its stars. Earth was our company, while other stars in the Galaxy were its clients and different stakeholders. The Earth back then was really easy to understand. It had Northern and Southern hemispheres populated with two different kinds of people. The Product Owner people lived North (they had their King - The Product Owner) and Scrum Teams lived South (the clan people of South had no Kings, but were living happily as just that - small clans). There never was any doubt about which part of the world you belonged to. Even people who were found in the woods after a plane crash (reorganization) could easily answer where their home was. Either they were actively contributing in the clans (Scrum teams), producing value and building the product (which meant they lived South) or they simply lived on the other side - North. So easy was the world back then.

Yes, many times (especially after a plane crash) the only thing people could find out fast was if they lived North or South, but knowing that little was already of a big help. As long as they knew where their home was (North or South), it was easy to find the place where they belonged,  by talking to other people from the same hemisphere. And if they still were not sure what to do after talking to their countryman (this mostly happened in North, because down South they needed all the hands they could get) people could always go to their King and ask how they could serve him.

Backlog

Every day many meteors were coming to Earth from the outer space. They always entered the atmosphere above the Northern pole and moved South. As they entered the atmosphere some of them evaporated while others became big ice blocks (epics). People from North were constantly working on cutting these ice blocks and moving the smaller blocks closer South. As ice has been moving further and further South it became snow (themes), which in turn warmed up (as it got closer and closer to South) to rain (stories). The stories rained down on teams in a structured, prioritized order.  People of North were dependent on people from South. The opposite was also true. North decided what to build and where to go. South decided how to get there and delivered and built what was needed. They could not live without one another, though it was not easy.

Communication is hard.

The communication between people from different hemispheres was always hard. People from North did not understand people from South very well and vice versa. They spoke different languages. They really had different ways of life. But many years of coexistence has taught them many lessons. Here is one, which I took from one of the Southern clans. The wisdom says: “Never mention anything which has a time duration attached to it, to people from North”. They will misunderstand you. You give them estimates in ideal days or ideal hours and before you lose them from you eyesight, they already forgot the “ideal” part of it. Now they have the estimate in days and hours. If you told them 5 ideal days, you can be sure the guys from North will popup 5 normal days later, asking where the hell is their feature they requested. They will catch you on that. They will make you feel miserable and have no mercy. So instead of saying anything, which has time units in it, you better give them a cheesecake or some bananas (or story points).

Feed them a cheesecake.

If you give your estimates in cheesecakes or bananas, first thing people from North will tell you is that you must have lost your mind. On the positive side of it, you ensure that they do not just run away with these estimates (something they would have done already, in case of you, giving them days or hours). How on Earth can they use these estimates? All they want to know is when their features will be finished. Now it’s time to explain that your clan (team) can deliver a certain amount of cheesecakes every iteration. From here, we usually find some understanding between North and South.

Let’s assume that people from North will always get estimates from the South in cheesecakes or bananas or some other abstract units. They know how long an iteration of their Southern clan is. They also know how many cheesecakes a clan can produce, so now they know when South can be done with the prioritized backlog. They can go and tell other people from North about it, and they can even radiate this information to outer space. Everything looks really good now, but there is a catch. We have made one little assumption, which can start the war between North and South and even destroy The Galaxy. I hope you can guess it for yourself.

How to keep the world peace?

In order to keep peace between the hemispheres we need the amount of cheesecakes to be stable! We need stable velocity. As soon as you promised people from North a certain amount of cheesecakes, you better hold your promise. All their calculations can go wrong if the amount of cheesecakes your clan delivers varies. Which means they have probably radiated something to outer space which is not true anymore. And those Martians are really hard to talk to, especially when it comes to explaining them new release dates on
something they wanted yesterday.


Stabilize your velocity!

People from North are much easier to deal with if the velocity is stable. Stability means they don't have any issues with other people from North or with Martians (at least not the kind of issues somebody from the South could help them with). You feed them stable bananas, they won´t touch you. It does not even matter if you give them too few bananas. As long as they accept what you offer (in sprint planning), everyone will be happy if you deliver what you said. But if your bananas are not stable the whole world has a problem, and it’s even a problem for the galaxy. In this case people from South should do whatever it takes to find the root cause (hint-hint, usually it takes a retrospective) and fix it. So go and stabilize your bananas!

Higher velocity.

Some last words about the velocity. Many people will probably say, hey, what about higher velocity. If you ask us to stabilize on our bananas how can we become faster? My answer to this is: don’t chase higher velocity. You can offer bonuses, you can punish people, you can try to find some creative ways to achieve it (at the end, we all know you will get what you measure, but probably with some undesired consequences in other parts of your complex system, which you have not anticipated). A much better solution is to forget about higher velocity and concentrate on stabilizing it. I promise you, with time, you will get higher velocity as a bonus automatically.



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Comments

Darren Ambrose CSM CSPO, CSM,CSPO, 3/8/2011 2:40:16 AM
Excellent :) I wonder if you could use a Star Wars analogy using something like Darth Vader as the Product Owner and Luke Skywalker as the Scrum Master :)
Sergey Dmitriev, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/8/2011 3:51:57 PM
Hi Darren,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, this is a nice analogy, though our Product Owners usually are not so evil ;), and Scrum Masters does not have to slash everyone around protecting the teams :).

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