A new ScrumMaster wanted to know what to do with a 20 point story that wasn’t complete at the end of an iteration. I explained to her that the story and its points move to the next iteration, but she wasn’t happy with the approach. She wanted to divide the 20 points between the current and next iteration. It was the only story in her iteration and she didn’t want to end up with an iteration with zero points.

“I’m having a hard time getting past this. Are you saying I have nothing to show for this iteration?”

What a telling phrase: “nothing to show for it”. What does she want to show? How does she want to show it? Who does she want to show it to?

Of course, what she was trying to say was, “I want proof that the team did work this iteration.” She’s having trouble getting past the fact that we’re not measuring output, we’re measuring outcome. That means we don’t focus as much the hours we worked as we we do the value we delivered. Every practice and ceremony supports this paradigm. Check it out:

  • What do you want to show? Completed features, not completed tasks. If you want to end the focus on time tracking, you have to stop talking about effort and start talking about features. Either you did or didn’t deliver a feature in the time box. Whether you spent 80 hours or 8 is secondary.
  • Where do you want to show it? At the iteration review, not on the project status report. The iteration review is your opportunity to show the value you provide, literally. You should rehearse and polish your demonstration before inviting everyone to see what you’ve made – it’s your opportunity to impress your organization. If you do that, your stakeholder meetings become a matter of formality.
  • Who do you want to show it to? Product stakeholders, not your boss. You should be more worried about whether or not you’ve delivered value than if your boss knows that you’re actually working. In fact, if you’re working but not delivering delivering value, you must be pretty ineffective. You don’t want to show that to your boss. If you’re delivering value, obviously you’re working. Who needs a timesheet to prove that?

This is a difficult leap for organizations to make. We’re conditioned to believe that hours worked equals productivity. This belief system won’t change until we change the conversation. So let’s stop talking about hours worked. Let’s stop talking about maxed-out resources. Let’s tart talking about value delivered. If we keep speaking the language of features and business value, eventually those around us will too. If everyone around us is talking about value, the organization has made the shift.

If you’ve found ways to change the conversation, I’d love to hear it. Hit me up on Twitter at @johnkrewson.

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