Overcoming Gantt-phobia

Posted: August 18, 2020 in Scrum, Team
Tags: , , , ,

noganttMy team were struggling to make their sprint commitments. Sprint after sprint, we’d go into planning, pick the stories that we believed we could finish in the sprint, and get to the end with things not where we wanted them to be. To make matters worse, stories were piling up towards the end of the sprint, leaving testing (and feedback) right to the end. Our best intentions were just not translating into a workable plan and it was hard to see why. And then someone suggested that we try visualise our plan in Sprint Planning 2 (SP02): would it help if we created a Gantt?

My gut reaction (as their Scrum Master) was pretty strong. I had flashbacks to my Project Administration and Project Manager days where my life was ruled by Microsoft Project Plans and unrealistic resource-leveling. I recalled long arguments about how, just because you could get a document through our intensive quality checks in two days, usually, it took about a week, plus you needed some days to rugby-tackle your busy stakeholder into signing it once it was ready. All this meant that your team was (in Gantt terms) “not working” for the duration of the document review task – which was unacceptable when everyone needed to be at a consistent 75% utilisation for the project. Then there were the status reports and percentage complete updates (how do you know you’re 50% complete if you’re not done yet?) and lines that jumped and moved (or didn’t) when your dependencies were mapped incorrectly.

All of the above happened in my head, of course, and we agreed to give the Gantt chart a try during SP02. Thankfully, besides knowing how to draw a basic frame, all my historic experience with Gantt charts meant I also knew which questions the team would need to answer to complete one – plus the mistakes people usually make when creating a visualisation of duration.

Before I share with you what we did, I think I’d better let you know how things turned out. The first few times we did it, people really struggled and it took a while to create the chart. However, with practice, it became just one more SP02 activity, and eventually, I didn’t need to help the team at all.

The visualisation helped us highlight where we were overcommitting ourselves (expecting one person to work on too many things at the same time; forgetting when a team member was on leave at a crucial point; or not finding ways to do some testing earlier). In making our poor planning assumptions visible, it helped the team figure out workarounds before the sprint even started e.g. for very long stories, they’d identify smaller milestones for feedback. Or where they realised that the type of work was very heavily weighted towards a particular skillset, they identified simpler pieces where less experienced team members could pair up and work together saving our “big hitters” for the more complicated stories. We also got better at accommodating sprint interruptions (like public holidays or whole-team-training) and adjusting our sprint forecast accordingly. Lastly, we started taking our Gantt into daily stand-up, and the team would adjust their Gantt plan at the end of stand-up which was a great way to see if we were on track and, where we weren’t, what needed to change.

How did we do it?

This is how we used the Gantt chart. Firstly, after SP01, I would create an empty framework for the 10 days of the sprint. I’d add any known “events” that would impact us, for example:

  • Our sprint ceremonies were on there
  • Any planned grooming slots were indicated
  • Planned leave/training was reflected- with the box size representing whether it was a half-day or full-day
  • Other significant “distractions” were added, like floor release dates
  • Any other planned meetings we were aware of after Sprint Planning 1 (SP01) were added
  • Weekends and any public holidays were blocked out
  • We also made the sprint goal visible on the last day (Review box)

The team would then work down their list of Backlog Items agreed in SP01. After discussing the item and the tasks for the work involved, they would then plot its expected start and finish date on the Gantt. As this was duration-based, in the beginning, I sometimes needed to remind them to add an extra day where a task ran over a public holiday or the person(s) the team assumed would be picking up the task (based on what was going on/availability) was going to be out of office. As they generally had an idea of who might be doing what, durations were also adjusted based on the person doing the work e.g. they would sometimes add extra time if the person was working in a space they were less familiar with. Even without thinking about who would be working on a specific task, the Gantt made it very clear when they were expecting to start more stories on the same day than there were people available to work on them. As previously mentioned, where stories looked to have a longer than usual duration, the team also brain-stormed mini-milestones where testing/checking could happen (e.g. if it was a five-day task, they’d try have something that could be tested/checked every 1-2 days). I added the tasks to the Gantt chart the first few sessions we used it, and once they’d got used to the idea, then a team member started doing it.

Finally, if the Gantt showed we’d been mistaken about our forecast in SP01, it meant we were able to communicate changes to the forecast before the sprint even started.

ganttall


This team had a specific problem to solve. As it turned out, the Gantt chart helped them create a shared view of their sprint plan which could be used to help them test their thinking/approach. It had a bit of a learning curve and took time and energy to create though, so I’d still caution against “just using it” for the sake of it. However, I’m also now likely to suggest a team tries it if they are experiencing similar planning problems to this team.

Have you ever used a Gantt chart for sprint planning? What did your team learn? Or have you been surprised by some other tool that you’d previously had bad experiences with? What was it and what did you learn?

 

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