During an iteration planning meeting, a team won’t be able to think of all tasks they’ll need to perform during the coming iteration. Some tasks just can’t be anticipated in advance. But others can be and teams often fall into a habit of overlooking certain types of work.

For example, one team might forget to consider changes to reports. Another team might forget that changes to one part of the system often require changes to another part. Or a team might tend to forget that when they change this last part of the system, the VP of that area likes to see the proposed new screens early in the iteration.

Whatever they may be, most teams have some types of systematic omissions--that is, types of work they fail identify on a regular basis.

If you think your team is suffering from this, here’s a simple thing you can do.

For three or so iterations, make note of all tasks identified during the iteration. If you’re using a software tool, this should be easy. If you’re using cards on a wall, clandestinely put a little dot on each card immediately after the planning meeting so you can later identify the task cards written during that meeting.

In the next planning meeting, bring a list of all the tasks that were added during the previous iterations. Tell the team what you’ve done and that these are tasks that no one identified during the planning meeting yet needed to be done during the iterations.

Ask them to look for patterns. Are there certain types of tasks the team missed?

If so, create a list and hang it on the wall or add it to the project home page. I like to structure it in the form of questions to be asked during iteration planning meetings. Questions will be things like:

  • Have we considered ___?
  • Will this product backlog item impact ____?

I’m not recommending you do this to identify 100% of all tasks during the iteration planning meeting. That’s too time consuming (and impossible).

But if you find your team is not doing a good job of thinking about the sprint ahead, this can be a helpful technique.

 

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