Agile Teams Can’t do Everything… and That’s the Point!

Agile Teams Can't Do Everything
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Agile Teams Can't Do Everything

Just like when you visit a restaurant, you can’t eat EVERYTHING on the menu. At least not in one meal. You have to make choices about what you want right now, what’s fresh, what will satisfy your cravings. These are the same decisions that Agile leaders and teams have to make every day. There is always more work than can be done at once, so it is up to us to choose and prioritize those work items that will satisfy our customers’ cravings.

There's a Buffet at Every Level

There is a buffet of value-based choices from leadership down through the portfolio level, the program level, and right down to the delivery teams. At each of these levels, Agile leaders should be prioritizing those work items that deliver the most value and either eliminating others or pushing them down the backlog to be considered later. However, there is one huge difference between these decisions and a true buffet… at a buffet, you don’t have to reprioritize food that is already being digested!

Here's a Visual Breakdown

Agile work visual breakdown

In this illustration, the lighter shaded units of work do not get done.

In order to maximize value delivery, we can’t deliver everything. We must focus on the work that delivers the most value to our customers and IGNORE the work that does not deliver value. Sometimes that changes in midstream. We take up a unit of work and begin executing it only to realize at some point that only some of the work within the unit delivers value, or that the value proposition has changed since the work entered the delivery pipeline.

"Maximize the amount

of work not done." skipped." ignored."

The success of Agile teams is most determined by their ability to maximize the amount of work not done. This doesn’t mean the teams are lazy or flaky, instead, it means they are keeping the customer’s best interests at the heart of what they do and that they are “rebalancing” their work regularly to ensure this remains the case.

What Happens to Teams that Try to do Everything?

Simply put, they fail. Just like you would if you tried to eat everything at a buffet. At some point, you aren’t delivering value anymore. Instead, you are continuing to spend money and time delivering something that the customer does not want, or wants less than something your competition is delivering to the market.

Leaders need to understand that just because a body of work was taken up by delivery teams, it does not mean every part of that work will be delivered. Rather it means the most valuable part of that work will be delivered and the rest may be put on hold until it’s the most valuable work in the backlog, or it may never get done at all.


Joe Burroughs

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