How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests

Sometimes an agile team is innundated (or maybe just slightly distracted) by requests for individuals on the team to do work for people or groups outside the team’s official stakeholders. This can happen, for example, in a corporate culture that promotes the exchange of favors. This past weekend at our Agile Coach’s gathering, Deborah Hartmann shared her method of detecting, exposing and discouraging this unofficial work.

The mechanism is actually very simple: track the work in the team space using cards and a variation on the burndown chart.

The Cards:

During the team’s status meeting, or any other time that a team member mentions doing some of this outside work, immediately request that that person write it down on a task card. The task card should be visibly distinct from normal task cards: either a different color or a different size or in a substantially different location. The task should also get an estimate in the same units you are using for the other tasks.

For each task identified, contact the person who requested the extra work. If the person who is doing the work has made a committment to the requestor then let the requestor know that the team has accepted the work but that there is a consequence: the team may not get all its other work done on time. As well, the requester should be informed that in the future, all extra work for individuals on the team must be prioritized by the team’s product owner.

Encourage the team to reveal this work by mentioning it at the start of the status meeting, in any iteration planning or retrospective meetings, or in any one-on-one meetings you have with team members.

The Burndown Chart:

Now that all the extra work is reflected in cards with estimates, the burndown chart can track this work too. The key difference is that it is tracked as a separate part of the work. If there are 80 units of normal work remaining, and 20 units of this extra work remaining, then the burndown chart will have a mark at 20 and a mark at 100. The mark at 20 should be made in a different color (I recommend red) so that it is highly visible. One ends up with a burndown chart that looks something like this:

Agile Advice - Burndown Chart Patterns - Extra Work.png

The Product Owner:

It doesn’t take much more than a single iteration for the Product Owner to get the message loud and clear: this extra work is eating up the team’s capacity! The Product Owner now sees the consequences of not being the go-to person for all work items.

Deb’s experience with this was that by the next iteration there were no further requests of the team for unofficial work, and the team’s capacity to do work for the Product Owner took a nice leap upwards.

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