When things are not always as they seem: The definition of ‘done done’ as told by a jelly bean.

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It is my experience that inspiration most often strikes in the most unexpected places. Recently this thought was once again validated when mulling over some insights while taking a walk during my lunch break.

The conundrum

As a scrum master I had spent much of the day following our daily stand up helping to clarify many of the work items in progress as it was clear from everyones updates that not everything was as it seemed when looking at our teams scrum board. One team member would give an update and show what story on the board they would be focusing on next. Another team member would then take the story back from being picked up from its ‘ready’ state and clarify that it was ‘ready’ but not ‘ready ready’. The code was under a peer review, the environment was down, someone needed to just sign off on a final bit of design. etc. The one thing on our board that was clear was that things were not as they seemed on our board and we needed to revisit our exit criteria for our column states.

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Reviewing our exit criteria seemed a sound plan going into a retrospective I thought…but not very engaging. Would just workshopping a refined exit criteria really get our team to consider the impact this behaviour was having on their team mates? Would it help shift peoples primary motivator behind moving a story from getting it out of their bucket and into someone elses asap to considering whether moving it would help other team members self organise their work more effectively by reflecting its real status?

The answer was yes…to a point. More was needed to make a lasting impact.

Enter the humble jelly bean

As I was about to head back to work from my walk to plan the retrospective activities I saw it. Sweet inspiration. A packet of ‘beanboozled edition’ jelly beans . If you haven’t come across these before they are a pack of jelly beans that offer a random selection of flavours as delicious as popcorn or repulsive as dog food. The pack stated:

These jelly beans may look alike but they could not taste more different from each other. Think you can tell them apart? We dare you!

Challenge accepted. I felt like our team was collectively very in tune with the jelly belly marketing team as the slogan could quite easily be refashioned to say:

These user stories in ready for QA may look alike but they could not be more different from each other. Think you can tell them apart? We dare you!

I quickly bought a pack and headed back to the office considering the important questions like “was it worth risking eating a rotten egg flavoured jelly bean in pursuit of my favourite buttered popcorn flavour or was I more inclined to go for the less appealing berry flavour with the lower risk toothpaste possibility…?”

The jellybean experiment

Insight: Team members are not demonstrating an awareness of the impact of having stories move/ not move across the scrum board during the sprint. Cycle time has been observed as increasing along with the amount of time team members have to spend clarifying the genuine status of stories.

Action: Introduce the beanboozled jelly beans during the exit criteria review team activity and use impact on team members as metaphor for our current challenge. 2 Stories in ready for qa may not both be really ready for qa; both blue beans are not the same flavour

When: During retrospective workshop with ongoing follow up in next sprint

Hypothesis: The teams shared experience with the ’beanboozled’ jelly beans will serve as a hook/ reminder of the negative impact our past behaviour was having on the team and be useful as a way of focusing the team on the underlying intent of what we are trying to do with the exit criteria rather then a short term fix.

Success:

Team members would retain a focus on our exit criteria and use them as the anchor throughout the sprint to frame conversations with colleagues around our CI focus area.

Retrospective day: Time to put jelly beans to the test

As expected, during our retrospective workshop the team identified an area for us to improve as being having a clearer agreement of what the exit criteria between scrum board states would be. We had some discussion of what it meant for team members to never quite know if stories were really ready for them to pick up and work on even though they were in a ‘ready’ state on the board. People nodded and silently pondered the impact on our team. As people paired off to work on refining the various exit agreements I poured the beanboozled jelly beans without ceremony into a bowl on the table and offered them around while people continued working.

Waiting…

Waiting…

Soon the game was up. 2 team members were looking at me with a mixture of curiosity and possibly some animosity before they asked where these jelly beans had come from. At this point the game was up and I revealed the orginal packaging. Relating the experience back to the theme of the retro which was around what impact do we have on our team members when things are not really as they same on our scrum board.

The retrospective was almost over…but not before some people couldn’t resist but to try a few more.

What now?

Wanting to maximise the ROI of this jelly bean purchase we will now try to use them as an incentive to stay focused on our CI goal of collectively adhering to the exit criteria for moving stories across the various states on our scrum board.

Current ideas

Bean jar:

This is essentially a variation on the good old swear jar where on each occasion where a team member finds that a story has been moved by someone without adhering to the full agreed upon exit criteria they are called out as passing a jelly bean. Punishment= The team member in question must eat a random jelly bean from the jar.

Jelly bean tally:

On the scrum board at the stand up whenever a story is found to have been moved prematurely into a new state OR has not been moved into the applicable state the stories gets a jelly bean picture tagged on it. The collective tally of ‘jelly beans’ recorded for the team over the sprint are then used to feed into some kind of funny/ embarrassing repercussion.

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