#Spelunking your #Backlog

it all seems so simple on first blush. Process the items in your backlog in priority sequence, rinse, and repeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Simply put if you process your backlog only by one measure of client priority, you are probably missing a lot.

The key comes when your backlog isn’t a simple list owned by one person. Like most issues in Agile, the trick always comes when you need to apply the Agile trappings to an enterprise scenario. When I have a backlog for one project with one owner and one solution, one rating system probably is sufficient. But when we move to an enterprise when we have a ticketing system for 50-60 applications, one rating system probably doesn’t suffice. In that enterprise situation, only going by one rating system probably means that entire applications or departments would be ignored and the systems would stagnate. Departments would become frustrated, write their own Excel and Access applications and create FileMaker Pro applications on the non-standard Macs they purchased.

So what to do?

Go spelunking

Mine the Data. Look for trends. Take a look at the data and see about the work required by:

  • Priority
  • Size
  • Age
  • Department
  • Technology
  • Effort
  • Strategy
  • etc…

Essentially understand your problems as much as you understand your solutions. ensure that you are not neglecting an area of the backlog. If you totally ignore an area of the backlog, the clients will create coping behaviors to address.

Although they don’t seem important, those small reporting tickets can results in a Data Warehouse being fully replicated if they never get attention. Clients will just copy data off and do the work themselves. Clients are also very reasonable when provided with the rationale between choosing between two competing priorities, but you need to give them some hope. Without that hope they will bypass IT and just do it themselves. And this will cause more work for IT in the long-term.

Recommendation

I recommend you take 80% of your budget and process the highest priority items. But then take the other 20% and ensure that IT is not ignoring departments or strategies entirely. Ensure that some tickets aren’t being left around for years and years. It is certainly proper to process less of these lower priority items, but it is fair to verify that we process some of them.

Top three signs a company is masquerading as employee-focused #halloween

Everyone says their company is employee-focused. Everyone says that their most important asset is their people. Everyone says that they have a flat structure and that there is an open door policy for everyone. So how can you tell the difference between the companies that are employee-focused and those that merely say they are employee focused?

I find there are three signs and they all involve a Suggestions Box.

Suggestion Box

A suggestion box? Isn’t that a sign that the management is honestly interested on improving and engaging the employees to improve the company? Not always.

In fact, there are three signs related to suggestions boxes that illustrate how committed management is to being employee-focus. These are:

1. You have a Suggestion Box

Although many people take this as an indication that the company is honestly interested in their employee’s suggestions and ideas, that is not always the case. In fact, a Suggestion Box reinforces a hierarchical structure. They may be interested in your ideas, but only after a review process. A suggestion box says:

“Thanks for your suggestion, we will review it and let you know if it has merit. Don’t call us, we will call you”

The suggestion box, still sets up an us and them structure between employees and management. This was re-inforced to me during an awesome keynote by Mark Graban at SDEC13. Mark pointed out that several Lean hospitals have moved towards suggestions Kan-Ban boards so that everyone can see their co-workers suggestions and see the progression of those ideas from submission to completion!

That shows the engagement and commitment the hospital has to their employee’s ideas. Brutal visibility.

2. The Suggestion Box is not actively used

An even worse situation is if you have a suggestion box and it is not actively used. This usually results from suggestions being submitted and dismissed by management. Employees soon discover that there is no action taken on their suggestions, so why should they bother? Even worse, lack of suggestions sometimes indicates a lack of trust in management. There may be suspicion about whether people making suggestions will be labelled as trouble-makers.

3. You have an anonymous suggestion box

Oh boy. If a company has an anonymous suggestion box, it almost is an acknowledgement that management can’t be trusted with knowing who submitted an idea. And that employees feel they need anonymity to be safe to submit ideas.

Summary

I love the idea of a suggestion Kan Ban board. It provides brutal visibility as to the suggestions submitted by employees and shows employees that management takes their ideas seriously and are implementing them. It requires absolute commitment by management to implement employee’s ideas though. Any filtering, removal, or dismissal of ideas by management will be visible to everyone.