Lately I've been listening to "The Goal", by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Which is a great novel about managing a business. In summary bottlenecks control how much output a business has, and output generates money.
I've been playing with a couple of theories about how this could relate to software development, firstly the bottlenecks could be roles within the team. For example if you have a lot of work waiting to be tested then the testing could be a bottleneck. I've heard about using WIP limits to manage this, for example you might say only 2 pieces of work can be in the test column of your kanban board at a time. If this happens then people need to help the tester to move work out of the column. This may seem counter productive as developers would be faster at developing, but if there is a limit on the team producing then it doesn't matter how much work in progress stories there are, they aren't done.
Often work in progress, or inventory in factories is seen as having value, but in the book and many other things that I have read they describe this work as being bad rather than good. You can begin to see how this applies in development. Work in progress must have latest merged into it, it can include increased technical debt and it can get in the way of the team moving through other work that is more important.
One of the other ideas I had is that maybe the bottlenecks are individual stories themselves, often I come across certain stories that take longer with individual team members than they should, maybe these stories are problematic for the team member, due to lack of domain/technical knowledge or maybe they have just hit a problem that is causing them to procrastinate somewhat. How about we track the average time for a story (or story with each member), and if the story goes over the average, identify it as a candidate for pairing/mobbing. This could help us to patch weak spots in the development process.
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