The Starting Problem Series – The Agile Resource Allocation Dilemma – Part 2

Jan 20, 2014 12:00:45 AM / by Naeem Hussain

Naeem Hussain

In the previous post, we outlined the Agile Resource Allocation Dilemma and recognized that this is a pervasive issue and a tough one to solve.

If you need some motivation to start solving for dedicated teams, here are some results that you could expect if you start agile teams without 100% dedicated allocation:

  • Scheduling ceremonies - stand up, planning, review sessions, etc. become a nightmare due to conflicts in priorities and working on multiple initiatives, resulting in a lack of daily accountability of deliverables.
  • Instead of teams working together every day and having opportunities to collaborate, they negotiate “how many core hours do we have a day and when?” This leads to uncertainty of delivery capability at the team level and more importantly task switching for resources that, as we know, causes waste in the system.
  • The product owner and scrum master are often at odds with the functional managers whom still generally have delivery accountability and will often call the prioritization decisions. Given the other critical projects that need to be completed, additional task switching is inevitable.
  • Sprint commitments mean nothing since team members with partial allocation do not consider the agile team as their "first team" and hence, struggle to establish and to own the team’s sprint goals. This commitment that individuals provide and then strive to meet, evaporates with partial allocation of resources leading to unmet sprint goals.
  • Even for those team members whom are 100% dedicated to the team, it is often challenging to motivate them to commit to goals when other important team members are committed part-time to the cause and have other priorities. Missing sprint commitments becomes acceptable and a culture of commitment cannot find a foothold in the organization.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some thoughts to consider:

  • If you can get 100% allocation at the start of sprint - do it. This is absolutely the best course of action, so ask the “5 Whys” when someone tells you that “partial allocation is the best we can do.” By the time you get to the 5th Why, you will often find that the partial allocation mentality can be overcome.
  • When you stand up agile teams, ensure that each team member can claim that their team is truly their “first team” - i.e. all work that is prioritized for a team member during transition is allocated via his/her first team. The functional managers need to request capacity from the product owner and scrum master of the agile team. In other words, if there is other critical project work, consider shifting those stories over to the team where the critical team member lives, prioritize it appropriately, and have the team commit to that work along with their other sprint commitments.
  • Ensure that every person can claim that they are part of an agile team - i.e. they do 60% or more work for this team during transition. In this way, all team members will get familiar with operating within agile practices and they will most likely start demanding that all their work comes through the backlog and team commitments.
  • Allow your product owner and scrum master to plan your initial sprints with capacity utilization of shared resources between 50% to 70% and gradually transition to 100% over 2 sprints. In this manner, you can treat the “other project work” as ad-hoc requests to be serviced with any remaining capacity.
  • Determine a transition plan for achieving100% resource allocation, pick a date for getting there, and stick to it. The transition time will ease the pain of moving to the new allocation model and the deadline will provide some urgency to make sure you get there. This is time to be disciplined about the transition – don’t fake it!.

As a leader if you want to drive a "culture of commitment" in your organization, you have to demonstrate this commitment by your actions and allow agile teams to form that can make commitments. This is such a critical element for enabling your organization to create value at a sustainable pace. When you create dedicated teams, you significantly increase the team's probability of success and hence, the results you expect from agile teams. When you have chosen to transform to an agile organization, begin with making this commitment - the commitment to fully allocated resources in the agile teams. The results will be exceptional!



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Topics: Starting Problem Series, Agile, Agile Organizational Design, AgiLEAD, Digital Strategy

Written by Naeem Hussain

Naeem Hussain is the COO of CirrusLabs. In this role, he focuses on advisory services for the leadership team of respective organizations for enterprise transformation, scaling agile adoption across the enterprise, creating in-sourcing strategies, and implementing DevOps practices. During his consulting career, Mr. Hussain has worked with large corporate clients such as Capital One Bank, Angie's List, Urban Outfitters, Pointroll, General Services Administration, Anthem Health and Transamerica.With an MBA from the University of Chicago and an M.S. degree from the George Washington University, Mr. Hussain has held various leadership and executive positions with Siemens, ING DIRECT, Capital, COO of MGRM Holdings and Co-founder and CFO of AgileTrailblazers . Mr. Hussain also serves as a member of the George Washington University School of Engineering & Applied Sciences National Advisory Council.

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