You can ride but not all of the time!

The eight problems that cause work entry problems are diagnosable if you are willing to expend a bit of shoe leather talk with team members and stakeholders or just observe. Knowing that there is a problem is important, however, the hard part starts when you try to fix the problem or problems. Work entry problems often occur in clusters because they are a reflection of the way the organization is structured, how work is funded, methodologies and/or organizational culture. These four general categories are addressable by different types of work entry fixes.

  1. Staffing Levels – The right number of people is a solution only for the scenario where needs outstrip supply.  That said, having enough people can mask all sorts of problems for a period of time. More people are not a long term fix if a team or organization is using the wrong method to develop code or any deliverable.  Nor is adding people a good idea if “yes” is the only answer to the question will you do it. Finally, while you can add people to cover something in that is urgent in the short run, if the culture favors urgent over importance innovation will suffer.  
  2. Alignment – Alignment can be an easy fix if the culture allows transparency. Create a set of shared goals that are required to be obtained for the team, program, or organization to be deemed successful. In cases where multiple different organizations work together, they must contractually agree on the shared goals. Define success so that “All for One and One for All” is not just a line from The Three Musketeers.
  3. Change Methods of Working – Breaking the classic project management approach to fund, monitor, deliver work requires changing how support departments deal with work as if flows through the value stream. For example, funding and value delivery need to be tied together without an explicit funding expiration date. Backlogs need to be built and prioritized based on value and then funded until the features on the backlog no longer meet the organizational hurdle rate (required rate of return) or doing something else will deliver more value than what the team is delivering. If long term backlogs can’t be funded, implement a portfolio level kanban approach where features are prioritized and funded with full transparency (an internal shark tank). The competition will focus each story or requirement in the work entry queue on delivering value.
  4. Culture – Culture is the beliefs, behaviors, and shared experiences that shape how team members or a company’s employees interact. Pay practices, whether interruptions are tolerated or work is defined as important or urgent, and most importantly how people that challenge the status quo are treated are all governed by culture. Because culture change is a reflection of teams and organizations building new habits and memories, implement the change and push people to hold the line until a new habit/guardrails begin to form. For example, if teams have yes’itus, implement a policy where all work has to be placed on the backlog and then prioritized by the team before it can be started.

Tackling work entry problems can be easy but most of the problems boil down to culture. Change requires drawing hard lines and then holding to lines until the new behavior becomes second nature. This might sound draconian, but the risk to the business is just too high to let work hit the team haphazardly.