Three Track Attack

In order to build a truly high-performance, resilient and adaptable organization, you need to consistently execute three separate tracks with your software teams:

  1. Deliver — Produce the next slice of shippable functionality
  2. Discover — Experiment with the next tech stack, alternative design options, etc. Learn in order to increase capabilities. Discover user needs and desires
  3. Refine — Actively fine-tune, improve and evolve the development process within the teams and throughout all the related teams in the organization

Most companies struggle just to partially complete #1, with no time or energy to focus on #2 or #3. However, a balanced approach to all three tracks makes completing #1 possible—and much easier.

These should be thought of as three legs of a stool. If you have only one or two legs, you’ll fall down. You need all three:

ThreeTrackStool.png

Pain Points

  • Constant surprises
  • Lack of design options or alternatives
  • No feedback on which alternatives might be better or worse
  • Lack of growth
  • No time to fix process or working environment
  • Too much time spent on process and not enough on delivery

Benefits

  • Be more responsive to user and market needs
  • Limit surprises and disasters
  • Improve system design and architecture
  • Reduce burnout
  • Avoid complacency
  • Realize actual benefits from new practices

Assessment

  • Discovery and learning produce valuable insights and future paths (20pts)
  • Refinement makes the work environment better and increasing team’s effectiveness (20pts)
  • There is regularly scheduled time in the schedule explicitly for Discovery (including learning), Refinement, as well as Delivery activities (10pts)
  • Delivery produces shippable functionality occasionally (10pts)
  • Delivery consistently produces slices of shippable functionality on a regular basis (20pts)
  • Discovery and learning does not provide any improvements (-10pts)
  • Refinement isn’t fixing anything (-10pts)
  • There is no time for any Discovery or Refinement or Delivery. See also AgreeToTry. (-150pts)
  • Organization is not able to Deliver shippable software (-500pts)

Application

✓ Critical ❑ Helpful ❑ Experimental

Adoption Experiment

Steps to first adopt this practice:

Setup

  1. Add time on the schedule (backlog, iteration plan, etc.) for Discovery and Refinement activities
  2. Rotate through a subset of the team to try these activities over the course of several weeks

Trial

  1. Select team members use the time allocated to investigate options, discuss tweaks to working arrangements, etc., as needed
  2. Listen to and act on on the results. There is nothing as demoralizing as spending time to figure out a solution and then have it be ignored

Evaluate Feedback

  1. Results of discovery and refinement may not be dramatic at first, but over time will clearly add to the growth and value of the team

What Does it Look like?

When a team successfully implements this strategy, it’s pretty clear that the team acts professionally and proceeds deliberately, not frantically. Panics and emergencies are rare. There’s time to investigate that new framework, that new speed optimization. There’s time to improve how you organize your work. Team members are engaged, and actively participate—and look forward—to the opportunity to fix things.

Team members are not burned out, working all hours of the night to churn out code by some artificial deadline. Team members don’t just nod yes, but actively discuss and discover pros and cons of new ideas.

But don’t think this a magic shield; problems will still come up. Some features will take longer than expected. Bugs will happen. Some practices won’t work out. That’s all a normal part of life and to be expected. But with this practice, the team is in place to handle problems.

The alternative is to ignore the environment until conditions get so bad that it becomes a major, expensive crisis. Some organizations consider this normal. It is not.

Save time, save money, stay on top of it

Warning Signs

  • Your team/organization ignores opportunities for refinement
  • You never find any alternatives or options
  • Solutions are prescribed by someone outside of the team with no flexibility to adapt to inaccurate assumptions or incorrect information provided

How to Fail Spectacularly

  • Ignore this practice
  • Blame people around you when things don’t go as planned rather than learning from failures
  • Trying to fit all feedback into a predetermined set of expectations (perception bias), rather than interpreting the data accurately
  • Focus exclusively on “real” work, and don’t allocate time to improve, inspect, and adapt to current needs
  • Adopt an attitude of complacency or feel you have “arrived” and today’s performance is good enough

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