BONUS: Mastering Work Intake For Agile Teams with Tom Cagley and Jeremy Willets

In this BONUS episode, Tom and Jeremy discuss the main ideas from their latest book on agile transformation and work intake management: Mastering Work Intake: From Chaos to Predictable Delivery. They share some of the main the challenges teams face when trying to adopt agile practices and offer practical strategies for improving work intake processes.

The Trigger for the Book

“Most people who try to transform and be agile don’t do it well. They fail multiple times because they say ‘yes’ to everything, which is a lack of control on work intake.”

Tom emphasizes that many teams struggle with agile transformation, often due to poor management of work intake. He has built a career helping teams that have attempted and failed at this multiple times. The main issue is that they end up saying “yes” to every request, leading to a chaotic work environment, lots of work started, and very little finished.

“We got started during the pandemic. We looked at many books on the topic and saw that it wasn’t tackled very well. ‘Actionable Agile’ and ‘Why Limit WIP’ by Jim Benson inspired us.”

Defining Work Intake and avoiding common mistakes

“We are drowning in work. We use metaphors to define work intake and see that work always finds a way to get done. Initially, we titled this book ‘Work Entry’ because of the idea that work is pushed to people, who naturally say ‘yes’ because they want to help.”

“Work has a way of getting started. Recently, I had water in my basement. I didn’t know where it came from, but the water found a way in. We see this over and over at work. Work just gets in, often because saying ‘no’ feels career-limiting.”

Tom likens unmanaged work intake to water leaking into a basement—inevitable and hard to control. This analogy underscores how work finds its way into a team’s backlog, often because rejecting tasks seems risky.

“Jumping the queue is a very common mistake. Important work always gets done, but we don’t always go through the process of identifying what’s truly important. This leads to ‘fast switching’ between tasks and ‘neglected WIP.'”

Tom highlights the mistake of allowing work to bypass proper prioritization, leading to constant context switching, which makes teams slow, and neglected tasks which rarely or never get completed.

“The goal conflict anti-pattern is another issue. Much of work intake is about the relationships that lead to decision-making.”

Jeremy discusses how conflicting goals and poor relationship management can lead to self-defeating work intake processes.

Key Strategies for Managing Work Intake, and Avoiding the Over-Planning Anti-pattern

“In the book, we present patterns to handle intake management and discuss the Product Owner’s (PO) role. The PO is critical for managing work intake in Scrum, requiring discipline from both the PO and the team.”

Jeremy outlines the importance of having a disciplined Product Owner to manage work intake effectively.

“The problem of team design often causes issues. Many teams work on features while supporting systems that deliver value to customers. This lack of focus is problematic. Building a solid DevOps framework is crucial.”

“Agility means flexibility. We need to prioritize and select work more frequently, getting feedback often to determine if the work is necessary. Refer to ‘Lean Startup’ for more insights.”

Jeremy advocates for flexibility and frequent prioritization over rigid, upfront planning.

“Mapping who is involved in work intake decisions is key. Understanding the feedback loop and how it’s integrated into decision-making helps manage work intake better.”

Tom emphasizes the importance of understanding decision-making processes and who are the stakeholders, to be able to improve those processes through collaboration.

Different Types of Work Mean Different Decision Making!

“People work on features, defects, support, etc. Each requires different management patterns. Recognizing team constraints is crucial for effective work intake.”

Tom explains the need for tailored strategies for different types of work, based on team constraints. Only this “whitebox” approach to work management can help us build a work intake process that helps us manage the work in a way that leads to faster deliveries and more productivity.

As an example, Tom and Jeremy share a story about a company wanting to move to the cloud. Unfortunately, the CEO’s decision overlooked the engineers’ lack of skills, which led to big problems. This story puts emphasis on the importance of aligning work intake with team capabilities.

A Top Tip: Be Mindful and Deliberate About Accepting Work Into Your Backlog!

“We help teams be deliberate about work acceptance by emphasizing relationships and decision-making processes. Effective work intake management reduces disruptions.”

Tips For Product Owners

“Manage work intake across the entire product. It’s more than just planning.” 

“PO is an active role. Help the team make decisions and sequence work.”

Tips For Scrum Masters

“Don’t overlook work intake. Involvement in this aspect is crucial to avoid anti-patterns.” “Defend team boundaries to control work intake.”

The Impact of Applying These Ideas

“It would be a lot calmer and more orderly.”

“We would get a lot more things done, avoiding the anti-pattern of rewarding work starts over finishes.”

About Tom and Jeremy

Tom Cagley is an experienced agile coach and consultant specializing in helping teams manage work intake and improve their agile practices.

You can link with Tom Cagley on LinkedIn. You can also listen to Tom’s podcast, the SPAMCast.

Jeremy Willets is a seasoned agile practitioner and author who has collaborated with Tom on numerous projects, including this book.

You can link with Jeremy Willets on LinkedIn.

BONUS: Improving Scrum with Kanban! With Todd Little & Joey Spooner

In this BONUS episode, we explore what it would mean if we were to merge Scrum and Kanban.  Todd Little, Chairman at Kanban University, and Joey Spooner, Vice President of Product Management at Kanban University share their experience and stories from companies that tried this approach.

Join us as we uncover the journey and strategies behind integrating Scrum and Kanban to replace project management and improve team productivity.

The Genesis of Agile and Kanban Integration

“Finding the right balance between Scrum and Kanban came from a need to handle uncertainty in tech projects better,” explains Todd.

Both leaders discuss their initial encounters with agile methodologies and how challenges in their projects led them to innovate and blend Scrum with Kanban to improve flexibility and responsiveness.

Understanding Scrum and Kanban

Continue reading BONUS: Improving Scrum with Kanban! With Todd Little & Joey Spooner

Lynn Runnels-Moss: The Art of Psychological Safety in Agile Teams

In this episode, we talk about one of Lynn’s pivotal experiences early in her career. A team was moving to Kanban from Scrum, and this transition taught her a crucial lesson about psychological safety within teams. One of the team members was fascinated by Agile methodologies. In that excitement, the team fell into some misunderstandings which revealed the importance of creating a psychologically safe environment for open communication. Learn how simple practices like check-ins and demonstrating allyship can transform team dynamics, fostering a space where every member feels valued, heard, and supported. Dive into this episode for insights on the subtle art of leadership and team management.

The inspiring story of how a failing hospital turned things around with Agile and Lean

Recovering from failure, or difficult moments is a critical skill for Scrum Masters. Not only because of us, but also because the teams, and stakeholders we work with will also face these moments! We need inspiring stories to help them, and ourselves! The Bungsu Story, is an inspiring story by Marcus Hammarberg which shows how a Coach can help organizations recover even from the most disastrous situations! Learn how Marcus helped The Bungsu, a hospital in Indonesia, recover from near-bankruptcy, twice! Using Lean and Agile methods to rebuild an organization and a team! An inspiring story you need to know about! Buy the book on Amazon: The Bungsu Story – How Lean and Kanban Saved a Small Hospital in Indonesia. Twice. and Can Help You Reshape Work in Your Company.

About Lynn Runnels-Moss

Lynn is a certified Agile coach and Business Coach, skilled in developing high-performance teams using Agile and Lean practices. She founded the London Comms Dojo, co-organises the London Code Dojo, and is a speaker in the Agile Leadership Community worldwide.

You can link with Lynn Runnels-Moss on LinkedIn.

Michael Schmidt: Ensuring Kanban Sustainability Despite The Scrum Master’s Absence

In this episode, Michael shares his experience with implementing Kanban in a software development team. Despite a functional team, the input quality was not good enough, and the team also had too many people taking on the product manager role. Michael collaborated with them, establishing a workflow and introducing a “Ready-kanban” system. Daily product standups were instituted, but progress halted when Michael went on vacation. Upon his return, he discovered no improvements, highlighting a trust deficit in the Kanban process. Michael emphasizes the need for collective ownership and sustainability of the practice, urging reflection on its benefits for lasting success.

The inspiring story of how a failing hospital turned things around with Agile and Lean

Recovering from failure, or difficult moments is a critical skill for Scrum Masters. Not only because of us, but also because the teams, and stakeholders we work with will also face these moments! We need inspiring stories to help them, and ourselves! The Bungsu Story, is an inspiring story by Marcus Hammarberg which shows how a Coach can help organizations recover even from the most disastrous situations! Learn how Marcus helped The Bungsu, a hospital in Indonesia, recover from near-bankruptcy, twice! Using Lean and Agile methods to rebuild an organization and a team! An inspiring story you need to know about! Buy the book on Amazon: The Bungsu Story – How Lean and Kanban Saved a Small Hospital in Indonesia. Twice. and Can Help You Reshape Work in Your Company.

About Michael Schmidt

Michael a Berlin-based Agile Coach for teams, roles and organisations around software based product development. Michael invented “the taskboard” on his own, which ignited his working agile by conviction some 13 years ago.

You can link with Michael Schmidt on LinkedIn and connect with Michael Schmidt on Twitter.

Kaisa Martiskainen: Finding the right Agile process for a mixed development and DevOps Team

In this episode, Kaisa shares the experience of joining a big team that had developers and operations people working in scrum. The team was unhappy with the long meetings and the 2-week sprint cycle did not fit the repetitive operational tasks. Kaisa suggests using surveys to assess the situation, talking to the manager about the impact of scrum on operations, and seeking help from a mentor. She also emphasizes the importance of promoting a solution that is already coming out from the team instead of pushing for change. The episode highlights anti-patterns such as cramming different types of work into sprints and replacing Kanban with Scrum in an operations team without considering the impact on the team.

Want to Improve Your Change Management Results? Discover the Lean Change Management Approach Today!

As Scrum Master we work with change continuously! Do you have your own change framework that provides the guidance, and queues you need when working with change? The Lean Change Management framework is a fully defined, lean-startup inspired change framework that can be used as the backbone of any change process! You can buy Lean Change Management the book at Amazon. Also available in French, Spanish, German and Portuguese.

About Kaisa Martiskainen

Kaisa is an Agile coach working for a large multinational software company. Originally from Finland, her thirst for learning new things and passion for languages led her to live in Sweden, and Scotland before settling in Montreal, Canada. She is an avid Redditor who spends her free time reading, knitting, investing and playing with her two daughters.

You can link with Kaisa Martiskainen on LinkedIn.

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This handy Coach Your PO cheat-sheet includes questions to help you define the problem, and links to handy, easy techniques to help you coach your Product Owner
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This simple checklist and calendar handout, with a coaching article will help you define the minimum enagement your PO must have with the team
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This simple checklist and calendar handout, with a coaching article will help you define the minimum enagement your PO must have with the team
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Internal Conference
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Download a detailed How-To to help measure success for your team
Motivate your team with the right metrics, and the right way to visualize and track them. Marcus presents a detailed How-To document based on his experience at The Bungsu Hospital
Download a detailed How-To to help measure success for your team
Read about Visualization and TRANSFORM The way your team works
A moving story of how work at the Bungsu Hospital was transformed by a simple tool that you can use to help your team.
Read about Visualization and TRANSFORM The way your team works
Overcome Team Resistance and Gain Leadership Buy-In
Discover practical, real-world solutions from leading Agile practitioners. Download three free chapters from 'Tips from the Trenches Scrum Master Edition' and start transforming your Agile practices today!
Overcome Team Resistance and Gain Leadership Buy-In
Discover practical, real-world solutions from leading Agile practitioners. Access three free chapters from 'Tips from the Trenches Scrum Master Edition' and start transforming your Agile practices today!
Overcome Team Resistance and Gain Leadership Buy-In
Discover practical, real-world solutions from leading Agile practitioners. Download three free chapters from 'Tips from the Trenches Scrum Master Edition' and start transforming your Agile practices today!
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Download three free chapters from 'Tips from the Trenches Scrum Master Edition' and start transforming your Agile practices today!
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