Too often, software development teams aren’t able to forecast software release dates and expected budgets leaving business units and sales teams guessing when to expect and sell new functionality. Some argue the inherent flexibility of the software release cycle makes it difficult to make commitments and predictions. Functionality depth and timetable can be flexed up or down, depending on spend, available talent or other intangibles including complications syncing or integrating with legacy software.
Establishing a development rhythm allows product teams to mitigate these variables to offer accurate software release cycle forecasts and reliable product intelligence.
Why Is Software Release Cycle Rhythm Important?
Predictable velocity allows the product development team to serve the business better, arming sales, marketing and leadership with advance notice of features interesting to users and stakeholders. The business’ ability to ask a question and depend on a reliable commitment from the product team can impact the strength of future revenue streams and relieve the stress of the unknown. Without rhythm, velocity is unpredictable.
Establishing and Maintaining Development Rhythm
Like an engine, development teams need a steady stream of fuel to build workable software that meets business needs. Rather than metabolizing gasoline, high-quality business requirements power development. Without 1) high quality and 2) consistent fuel (requirements), the development engine will sputter and stall. Follow these best practices to open the lines of communication, create accountability and find a software release cycle cadence your team can maintain.
1. Ensure All Team Members Have an Equal Voice in the Process
Open communication enables transparency. Transparency enables predictability. If individual players feel comfortable communicating honestly without fear of punishment or retaliation, the team can face risks, concerns and barriers throughout the process with eyes-wide-open mitigating the impact to scope, timeline or budget.
The best way to maintain open communication is to create power parity on your team. Be aware, it’s a delicate balance (especially for product owners) to demand excellence, while still listening to the team’s input to create the most optimal performance.
The attempt to please the product owner, in turn, creates a power imbalance. Team members acquiesce and overcommit to work beyond what they can reasonably complete. This results in bloated estimations that look good “on paper” but derail the release schedule creating project turbulence and variability.
2. Encourage Consistent Involvement from the Business
The development team’s business liaison (often the product owner) is responsible for providing the steady stream of fuel project teams need to maintain productivity. Without needs, goals and requirements communicated, the development engine slows. By contrast, a flood of feature requests, can flood the engine creating fits and starts as the team responds to alternating cycles of feasts and famine.
Teams juggling this unpredictability results in staccato bursts of productivity and stagnation rather than a reliable development able to inform and respond to business decisions.
3. Create a Culture of Accountability on Your Development Team
A culture of accountability generally develops later in the maturation of a development team after they have “stormed” and “normed.” That said, accountability should be promoted from the onset of a project.
Development leaders should seek to cultivate teams with the agency to say what they are going to do and to do what they say. This means allowing the development team the freedom to make reasonable completion estimates. This also may mean the team isn’t running at maximum productivity — at first.
Teams with leaders who allow them to set their own commitments have a higher degree of responsibility for those commitments compared to teams with commitments set for them. Teams afforded agency don’t rely on heroics to get the job done. Rather, rational expectations and reasonable timelines drive development commitments.
Creating a culture of accountability can be difficult for motivated leaders who want to push development timelines and exceed expectations. The key to maintaining a development cadence the business can trust is allowing your team to walk first, then run.
At first, the cycles between major releases may be longer. But, allowing your team to drive commitments ensures team strength and sustainability, which ladder up to velocity the business can count on and predictable progress in the long-run.
4. Strengthen the Bookends of the Agile Planning Process
While some experts would argue daily standups are more important to maintain velocity, sprint planning and reviews offer the best opportunity to examine cadence in a particular sprint and adapt commitment volume, if needed.
Sprint planning sessions allow teams to describe the work, while sprint reviews provide the opportunity for accountability and acceptance of work completed. Daily standups create touch points to maintain accountability but don’t allow for the big picture thinking/planning that impacts development velocity.
Can You Increase Development Velocity with Your Existing Team?
The easiest way to increase velocity without more bodies is to simplify requirements. Championing minimalism requires team members to rigorously question each ask and decide collectively to pursue only the most necessary and valuable actions.
By releasing simplified requirements and implementing metrics, the business can monitor and build upon the interactions users gravitate toward and find value from.
While this in-and-of-itself doesn’t increase velocity it maximizes the value gained from the velocity the existing team is able to achieve — a viable alternative within the bounds of budget for many teams.