Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fire drill, followed by "Why isn't this done?"

The Problem

Interruptions in your work are very costly. They usually come in the form of an expedited request to satisfy the craving of some stakeholder. If the craving is local to that stakeholder, there is a significant cost to the overall system when the interruption is serviced.

We call these interruptions by many names. Here are a few you probably recognize:

  • Fire drill
  • Context switch
  • Shoulder tap
  • Urgent request
  • Pet project of the CxO
Once the fire drill is over, the stakeholder offers up this question, "Where is my top priority feature?"

"You mean the one we had to put on hold to put our your fire?" you reply.

You've been there before, I know you have. Here is what I'm currently trying.

The Solution

Make the interruption as visible as possible on your information radiator and show how it prevented other work in progress from getting your attention.

I use Trello currently, and I've started adding the image below as a custom sticker to Trello cards that are deemed "fire drills."

It makes the card on the Trello board really come to life! Here is a static image of a card with the sticker.

At the end of your iterations, you can quickly see which items were fire drills. If you track metrics, such as, "How many fire drills did we have this week?" or "How many items were compromised due to fire drills this week?" you begin to write a story to stakeholders about the cost of their expedited request.

Exhibit A

We just experienced one such fire drill on one of our teams. The stakeholder imposed a request on the team and the team serviced the request. When the fire drill was over, the team lead sent this response:

Dear Stakeholder, 
We had to drop everything we were working on yesterday for your fire drill issue and missed our internal code delivery deadline for your other priorities. Because we follow two-week sprints and release cycles, this means we have to delay the release your prior "top priority" feature until two weeks later. 
Ever your humble servant, 
The Team Lead

1 comment:

  1. But the way I really liked the blog above, its reality of our life also, best line "You mean the one we had to put on hold to put our your fire?" you reply." :P