Why agile teams need to understand failure demand

Posted on December 31st, 2009 in Agile, Kanban, Lean by siddharta || 1 Comment

A few days ago, the hard disk on my laptop crashed. I called up tech support and asked them to replace it. A technician came down and changed the hard disk and then proceeded to reinstall the operating system using the recovery disk provided by the manufacturer. Unfortunately the disk was scratched so the reinstall could not complete. Now instead of replacing the disk, the technician asked me to contact tech support and someone else will come down and provide a new disk. Knowing that the OS would have to be reinstalled, and something might happen, why didn’t he have a backup disk with him? So I have to make another call to tech support.

Executives see the rising number of calls and try to cut corners to manage it quicker, leading to.. even more calls. A broken process itself contributing to increasing the demand.

Thats failure demand.

So what does this have to do with agile teams?

Take a look at your backlog as it goes through a project. At the start of the project you would have all new features on the backlog. Somewhere along the way a few bugs start to appear as some conditions were not tested. You may also have a few change requests as features may not be exactly what the stakeholders had in mind. Thats ok.

But what happens next? In order to manage the bigger backlog the team starts cutting corners. Maybe more features are handled in a sprint, and there isn’t enough time to test them all. Suddenly you start seeing a whole lot more bugs and change requests. Suddenly the backlog starts increasing rapidly. All this is failure demand. While dealing with this the team cuts even more corners and you start seeing a new type of failure demand as refactoring tasks start going onto the backlog.

The team has two choices now – cut back on the velocity and fix the process, or cut more corners as you try to cope with the ever increasing backlog. Ironically, the second option only makes things worse.

So take a look at your backlog today. How much of it is value adding work? How much of it is failure demand?

Many teams find that the amount of failure demand exceeds value adding work. Don’t think about how you are going to handle it. Instead, think about how you can improve your process to prevent it from coming in the first place.

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One Response to “Why agile teams need to understand failure demand”

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