The Fuck-it Bucket: Deciding what doesn’t go in a Sprint

First – Happy Summer break! The two of us girls have been a *little* distracted with house projects and some much needed vacation time. You could say we took off a Sprint – which IS actually a thing we do on a rare occasion. But more about that later…

In our last post, Andrea talked about our meeting cadence and how confused we were in our early meetings. Another thing that took us a long time to get the hang of was how to decide what types of tasks should make it into a Sprint.

Our first backlog was essentially a collective mind dump (or mind sweep for any fellow GTD devotees out there) of all the projects and tasks we had on our plates.

As Product Owner, I was responsible for organizing and refining the backlog so the team could see what were top priorities for our stakeholders and select Sprint tasks accordingly.

I’d forgive you for thinking all of this, so far, seems nice and simple. We did, too.

Spoiler alert: It is hard to predict the future.

The 5 Deadly Sins of Sprint Planning

In order to maybe save you some time and anguish, I present to you a list of tips to help you decide what to accept in your first few sprints. Or, to be more accurate – what NOT to accept.

Deadly Sin #1 – Take on too much work

Almost right away, we overcommitted. We are doers! Helpers! We don’t want to let anyone down! But we also could quickly see how we were just getting a-lot-of-nothing over the finish line, which was our whole reason for deciding to try Agile. We came up with a saying: “If it’s not a HELL YES, it’s the ‘Fuck-it’ bucket.”

For whatever reason, this little saying helped us all find a way to gut-check what we were accepting or choosing to leave in – or more importantly, OUT – of the Sprint. Yours doesn’t have to have a curse word, but adopt some kind of shared way to gut-check yourself and each other so you don’t overcommit.

Deadly Sin #2 – Add in Sprint meetings

We don’t include any of our Sprint meetings as committed tasks. Our value is the outcome we are producing, not how we are producing it. We imagined ourselves an open book. If the CEO popped in and asked to see our Sprint tasks, would they instantly recognize value? Or see lots of activity accomplishing very little? We decided to capture value – not activity for activity sake.

Deadly Sin #3 – Ignore recurring meetings

As we’ve mentioned before, tracking tasks in this way might have you feeling a bit OCD. But a tangible benefit is how visible patterns become. When you include what you have calendared within the Sprint and realize your time to complete tasks is finite and precious, you start to question why you’re making time for meetings with Sally from Department X, who in reality ends up complaining the entire hour. This is a very worthwhile exercise indeed. Include meetings that help you accomplish the value. Decline everything else.

Deadly Sin #4 – Don’t bother to figure out pointing

So far, when we’ve consulted with other groups, one of the first complaints is pointing. Time is tangible and people initially think tracking it is clearly more valuable.

Understanding capacity and velocity is hard.

Math is hard.

Hard is good.

Good news! We can do hard things.

Pointing speaks less to time and more to level of effort. If we are building a 4-story building for the first time, we might take a year. But later, after we are more skilled and more productive, in that same year we may be able to build a 13-story building with the same quality. So instead of tracking to time, track to effort. Over time, you will become skilled at predicting your effort while your effort has become more efficient. This is where the magic happens. Would you rather hire a team that is stuck thinking they can only build 4 stories in a year? Or a team that has become so efficient they can build 13 stories in the same timeframe? Point your tasks! Trust us.

Deadly Sin #5 – Don’t have a laser-focused Sprint goal

Ultimately, you have to figure out what works for you. We started out agreeing to every task for everyone all together (hence, the Fuck-it Bucket). Then we went to the opposite end of the spectrum and just put in whatever we individually thought needed to get done. Now we take a blended approach. We point to 75% of our capacity. About 30-35% goes to our collective Sprint goal, where we all agree what needs to get across the finish line. The remaining Sprint tasks are individually accepted based on our roles and responsibilities. This way, we all contribute to the priorities of the business, get our individual task lists done, and allow time for administrative tasks and personal development. This may not be the ideal mix for your team, but maybe it will help you consider what does work for your business or circumstance.

Thanks for sticking with me if you’ve made it this far! As you can see, we love to talk productivity and ways to improve. Let us know if you want to meet up or exchange ideas – we’d love to hear from you!

Jenny

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