What does it take to deliver on your commitments? Do you need a team of people who are proficient in estimating how much time the work takes? Or perhaps, all of your items should be of the same size?

Not even close!

To be able to make reliable delivery commitments and hit your targets consistently, you need to build a system of practices that enable consistent delivery times (Spoiler alert! Effort time and delivery time are not the same thing.)

You can then use that system to continuously improve the way you manage your work, grow high-performance teams who are invested and dedicated to what they do, and most importantly spend your time on what matters most – delivering customer value.

Now, there are different paths that lead toward achieving this goal but they all start from the same place – reducing your cycle time variability. The more consistent your cycle time is, the more reliable your delivery commitments will be.

So, how can we make our cycle time more consistent and reduce the spread of the distribution to a point that’s optimal for our teams? Right-sizing!

What Does Right Sizing Mean?

A while ago I had a conversation with a product manager of a team who develops financial software that helps individuals manage their finances more effectively. They were struggling to deliver on their commitments and she knew that paying close attention to their cycle time histogram plays the main role here.

Cycle Time Histogram by Nave

Use the Cycle Time Histogram by Nave to evaluate the spread of your cycle time distribution.

They were still maintaining a fat-tailed distribution and it was hindering their performance.

As we were going through the analysis, my client immediately shifted into “solution mode,” explaining how her team planned to address the situation.

Their proposed solution?

They intended to break down their work tasks into smaller segments, each manageable within a single day!

And I could see where she was coming from. To improve their delivery time, they aimed to divide their work into the smallest possible pieces.

However, there was a major drawback with this approach:

It wasn’t primarily focused on delivering real value to their customers. Instead, the emphasis seemed to be on improving how their performance metrics look like.

Let’s take a step back and remember why we use flow metrics and analytics in the first place.

The sole purpose is to gain more visibility and awareness. We need transparency to make informed decisions, not the other way around.

You shouldn’t break down your work tasks just to fit a time limit or a benchmark. This is an arbitrary strategy.

Right-sizing your tasks means that you come up with the most feasible option that still makes sense from a customer perspective.

Breaking down work tasks into smaller segments is a positive step. In fact, the smaller the segments, the better – as long as they still provide value to your client.

Putting Customers First: Value-Driven Problem-Solving

Now, you might wonder about customer value – a valid question!

Here’s how I like to define it:

Place yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask, “Where does the problem come from? What’s the underlying issue here?”

Then, when breaking down your work, ask yourself, “What’s the most effective solution for this specific problem?”

Strive to find the simplest and quickest way to deliver something usable to your client. The main objective is to produce results and collect feedback early so you can make necessary adjustments.

So, what does this approach look like? For example:

If your next feature development requires different expertise, instead of dividing it into front-end, back-end, and database development, consider separating the functionality in a way that remains relevant to your client.

Every piece of work, regardless of its size, should be something the customer can interact with and provide feedback on.

Could you present a few static pages to demonstrate the interaction? Can you build basic functions for them to use and evaluate whether it meets their expectations?

Remember, smaller pieces are better, as long as they remain meaningful to your customer.

If you’re interested in applying the principles of right-sizing your tasks and creating a delivery system that enables consistent delivery results, I’d be delighted to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.

How to Balance Flow Metrics and Customer Value

How can you use this approach to reduce the variability of your cycle time?

Here’s an extra tip for those working on 2-week sprints (feel free to adjust that period based on your own business context):

When deciding on the tasks for your next iteration, ask this question: “If we start now, do we risk exceeding the 14-day commitment?” Don’t spend more than a couple of minutes on this assessment.

If the answer is no, move on to the next task. If it’s yes, it’s a clear signal that you have to keep brainstorming.

The primary aim of story splitting is to assess if something is more intricate than your initial perception. Dividing an initial story into four new ones doesn’t automatically mean tackling all four. Remember, you’re committed to addressing what holds value for your customers in the present context.

A word of caution here: splitting your stories is a continuous process. It’s a perfectly valid scenario that your team may be working through a story in the development workflow, and find that the story turns out to be way more complicated than you initially assumed. In this case, you go through this process again.

Splitting work into smaller segments is effective, as long as it doesn’t compromise the concept of customer value.

When dividing tasks, always assess them from your customers’ perspective. Ask yourself, “Will this solution still address our customer’s issue?”

Your client should be capable of reviewing the results, assessing them, and offering feedback to facilitate any necessary adjustments.

From then on, make sure to double-check with your team whether that scope has the potential to exceed the period of your next iteration (don’t spend more than 1-2 minutes on it!).

Remember, you don’t have to figure all of it upfront. You can adjust the size of your stories at any point during your process flow. As long as you keep your customer front and center, you’ll be in a great place!

My friend, I hope you now have a fresh perspective on story splitting.

If you found this article valuable, share it on your social platforms. My goal is to reach those who need a different perspective; your help in spreading the word is greatly appreciated.

For now, I wish you a productive day ahead. I’ll catch you next week, same time, same place, for more managerial goodness. Bye for now!

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