Tuesday 1 November 2016

Getting the BAs to Step off the Ladder

We were in a planning meeting and we seem to have a lot of inventory. The BAs seem very keen to talk about things in the medium horizon but we as developers are crying out for the stories to be curated to a standard that makes them truly ready for development. It seems that increasingly they are concerned with maintaining the medium and long term inventory of the backlog to satisfy some high level business questions about what the program may deliver before the end of this year and in the first quarter of next year. In talking this over with my colleague, he drew a picture that was describing the problem (he just sighed and said "anyway, rant over" by the way). This is the picture we came up with:

On the top left we see the backlog depicted as a series of things with BAs looking after it. At the bottom we see a group of developers (us) with a pipeline of work that needs feeding. There are a load of stories that are (nearly) ready for dev on the left but somebody needs to put then on that pipeline to us. We need a way to make the BAs do this but they are up there in the top left. So this got us thinking "why are they up there"? And, more importantly for us now, "how do we get them off the ladder?" It looks like a ladder up there, that backlog!

We think this is a symptom of the fact that our program has some aggressive delivery promises in place and that the program management is being handed over to a different business unit. The BAs and PMs are trying to answer the question of "what can we do in the next 3 months" There may be other things in play as well, in particular we think that some of the BAs are more comfortable "on the ladder" and may want some of the other BAs to occupy the space down below near the slide.

So how do we get the BAs to come down off the ladder and help the stories into the development pipeline? It feels like the answer is to own verticals in the analysis space and own stories from the ladder (the backlog and the medium level horizon) right down to it being properly ready for development. They need to be willing to get more down and dirty with what the implementation pitfalls may be and what information we will need to start the development. Too many of them seem to be comfortable up their ladder. This may be a hangover from waterfall days, it may be that previously, before we taught them Agile, that they could throw things over the wall and somebody else (A PM maybe?) would pick it up and complete the analysis.

So I guess the conclusion is that devs / tech leads need to climb up the ladder and BAs need to descend toward the slide. We all need to be willing to overlap our function as much as possible so that we don't throw things over the wall, however small that wall may be. The key is that we should be willing to overlap our influence so that the pipeline can continue to run smoothly without any blockages.

Finally, here is another diagram we drew while I was typing this. We have the "ladder of backlog" above the "slide of development". Devs and QAs live on the slide, Product owners and BAs live on the ladder. Tech leads and devs need to live in both and be prepared to push upwards. Product Owners live near the top of the ladder, BAs need to occupy the whole ladder and some of the slide.

With thanks to my colleague Matt Belcher for the diagrams and the discussion that we were having as I typed this.

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