These days SCRUM agile for most people. Teams quickly learn the ceremonies and can become quite adept at working with the practices and companies see some improvements against more traditional methods. When I meet people who have been working with agile for a while I am often surprised that their understanding is limited to the ceremonies and practices and not theory that supports them.

Every team should be striving to increase their velocity in every sprint. Once the initial gains from mastering the ceremonies and practices have been realised, teams plateau. The next stage is to focus on identifying and eliminating waste.

Waste comes in many forms; but for the purposes of this post, I am thinking activities that have prevented the team from spending every possible minute working on the solution. For example:

  1. Time lost waiting for enviornments to be created by another team
  2. Slow and unresponsive tools that mean tasks that should take seconds take hours.
  3. Key people not being available when a decision is needed that blocks progess
  4. Time spent work that wasn’t necessary (perhaps because the Product Owner bined completed stories)
  5. Team interactions and workng practices.

The items that wasted time together with the cost in hours and minutes should be recorded as a KPI for the team. The waste items are definitely items to be discussed at the retrospective. Can team do anything differently to avoid the waste? (often they can) What items should be escalated to management for investigation.

One of the problems is that waste is often to engrained company culture that it goes unnoticed and therefore missed and is never challenged or discussed at the retrospective. The key is for the Scrum Master, PO or other key team member identifying waste. A classic method is to have the facilitator at the daily SCRUM or stand up meeting listen out for waste and record it on the board, for example a team member says: “Yesterday I was working on story xyz but didn’t finish because I had to wait for the UI team to confirm the icons and screen colours”. Facilitator asks “how long were you waiting”, team member “3 hours”. The facilitator can then record this on the board on a “waste snake”. It’s a quick and easy way to identify waste items for discussion at the retrospective.

As a line manager, getting a report from my teams about how much time has been lost (or delay incurred in completing work) for things that teams cannot fix themselves is hugely valuable. It can be the key to make changes in operations that make the entire organisation more efficient; not only that issues that annoy and frustrate teams can be dealt with. Certainly being able to show how much waste has been fixed is a fantastic Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for the development group. Most of us will have wanted to buy in a tool or invest time in fixing a problem but have been prevented because we have been unable to quantify the cost to our Director or C level managers. Being able to produce facts that can be given a monetary value (you know how much your teams cost per hour) could provide the supporting evidence.

Over the last few years economists have been talking poor British productivity. Eliminating waste has the effect of raising productivity and more importantly is at the core of lean in which agile has it’s roots and something that every Agile team should understand.