The projector painted a screen from Microsoft Access on the wall as the team voices all droned into a low hum. It was Showcase and Retrospective time, and I was visiting a team to try to figure out why one of my star teams had lost 80% of their velocity this past iteration.
“How about story 174,” the project facilitator asked, “what’s the status on that?”
“Let’s see,” a voice from the back of the room said, “This is ‘research Groovy’”
“Well, I finished researching Groovy. It’s great.”
“So the story is done?”
The Product Owner speaks up.
“Not exactly. There should be ‘install Groovy in the dev environment.’ on that story too.”
The facilitator starts adding to the story.
She looks up – “Well how many hours are left to do that?”
The developer shrugs. “I don’t know. Say around 20?”
“Okay then. We’ll carry that over to the next iteration. How many points were there?”
“It was a 21-point story.”
“So you think you did about 7 points worth this time?”
“Beats me. Sure. All I did was spend some time Googling. Is Google around 1 point?”
“We’ll call it seven points. So you have 14 points remaining for the next iteration.”
The developer shrugged. “Sure”
Somewhere deep in the back of my mind a silent scream called out, and then was silenced. It was as if a million coaches rose up their voices in fear and anger and were suddenly quieted.
There was a major disturbance in the force.
At the end of the meeting, the team’s velocity had improved – they delivered about 80% of what they had planned – if you counted points. If you counted stories, they completed 3 stories out of 12.
Just from the back of the napkin, around seventy percent of agile projects end up with severe velocity problems during their timeline. This phase can be transitory, or it can be fatal to the project, depending on how it is handled.
I asked the Product Owner after the meeting how he thought the iteration was going.
“It’s going fine,” he said, “we have a good team.”
Does the decreasing velocity bother you?
“What’s a velocity?”
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