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Undone work

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The latest Scrum guide from Ken Schwaber talks about undone work. This is the stuff that you don’t do as part of the story, but still needs to be done before you release. It’s the stuff you do in a release sprint. Obviously the smaller this is, the better, as you are closer to ‘potentially shippable’. I’ve always had a problem with this term. I understand the necessity for it, especially in teams new to Scrum, who for example might not have a fully automated regression test suite they can run on each story. However, I’ve never liked the fact that it was a formal term in the Scrum framework. To me it kinda says it’s okay to have undone work, whereas I’d like a team to strive for having zero undone work when a story is finished.

I had an insight into my feelings about this in the past two weeks while I’ve been on leave. I took leave not to go away, not to sit on my couch and play xbox, not to relax and visit a spa, but to tackle all the undone work around my house. We had books that were going to a second hand store months ago, wine sitting in boxes waiting to be taken to our wine storage cellar (and slowly being drunk instead), a study with a massive damp problem, dining room chairs close to falling apart, the list goes on…

For all of these things we had started to do something. I had contact details for an upholsterer, had removed the carpet in the study and scraped the walls, had packed said books into a box. So it seemed like we were making progress, but the reality is that we had not got any value yet because we hadn’t achieved the end goals. Removing old books we’d never read again and making space for new ones, having chairs that guests could sit on for a dinner party without fear of them breaking, having a study that we would actually want to work in.

I realised that I hate procrastination. I love the satisfaction of finishing things. I hate leaving things half done and starting new things. It’s just part of who I am. It’s probably why I obsess about getting all the possible achievement points in each xbox game I play. I thought I’d understood something about the human condition that I could use to help eliminate undone work in sprints.

Then I spoke to Carlo. My husband. Also a Scrum coach. And my complete polar opposite. He doesn’t feel this way at all. Undone stuff around the house doesn’t bug him. In fact, he feels good that he’s made a bit of progress when he’s packed the old books into a box. Or more like told me which ones he doesn’t want anymore, so I can pack them in a box :)

So back to square one on my insight about undone work. But I guess here is a different insight. People are different. They are motivated by different things. Hopefully if you have a diverse team you should have aspects of both in the team. I think these differences between people is what drives emergence, when the team performs better that the sum of the individuals. I think the tension between the procrastinators (Carlo) and the obsessives (me), can lead the a healthy compromise of what is good enough.So I guess my message is this, respect the differences in team members, and understand that not everyone thinks that it’s a major problem that the code isn’t perfectly refactored, and the build time is more than 15 minutes.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. jo-lene #

    Nice one, looking forward to reading how the new role goes.

    February 4, 2010
  2. faiq irfan #

    Nice one, looking forward to reading how the new role goes.:):):):)

    October 5, 2011

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