Editorialized Glossary

A glossary, with my editorial thoughts.

  • Agile: An approach to knowledge work that is best described in the four value statements and 12 principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. I consider agility as a direction rather than a destination, such that questions that assume a binary answer like “Are you agile?” are inappropriate and often impede productive discussion. Given the ubiquity of the word today, if pressed beyond the manifesto, I tend to prefer meaningful and descriptive words (rather than describing something as “agile”) like “iterative and incremental delivery.” (I try to avoid the word waterfall for the same reason.)
  • “Big Three” Flow metrics: Throughput, Delivery Time, Work in Progress
  • Blocker clustering: A flow-analysis technique that uses records of issues that have blocked work items, grouping them by common cause. (see https://www.slideshare.net/MatthewPhilip/flow-from-blockers-how-to-use-blocker-clustering-to-improve-predictability-ale-2015-conference)
  • Capability: What you can do (organization, team, individual)
  • Capacity: How much you can do (organization, team, individual). Best forecast probabilistically; I strongly advise against the SAFe-prescribed method.
  • Chapter: A group of people currently in the same functional role (e.g., QAs, Developers, Scrum Masters). A bounded rather than centered group. Popularized by the so-called Spotify Model (see Spotify Model).
  • Class of Service: A combination of policies and cost-of-delay archetypes that inform how certain types of work items are treated. These categories of work items may warrant different policies for selection and processing based on different customer expectations, relative value, risk tolerance and/or cost of delay. Example: Pull a low-risk tolerance item when it is within its 95th-percentile confidence interval of being delivered.
  • Commitment point: The point in a kanban system at which someone commits to deliver a work item. Before this point, work done supports the decision whether or not to deliver the item. After this point, it has been confirmed that the customer wants and will take delivery of the item, and that the service will deliver it.
  • Cost of Delay: A measurement that considers the value of something relative to time, which makes it a superior measurement to simple value. Technically, it is the difference between the benefit (net present value) that would be available from a work item if it were completed without delay and the benefit if it were delayed by a period of time. Measured in consistent units of value such as dollars.
  • Cost-of-Delay Archetype: A way to quickly identify a work item to aid in the Three S’s:
    • Expedite: “Causing us pain now”
    • Fixed-Date: “Has a true deadline.” The key is: We don’t realize any economic benefit from delivering this before the date.
    • Standard Urgency: “The sooner, the better”
    • Intangible: “Time and value are both difficult to assess, but they are nonetheless real and relevant.”
    • Intangible Fixed Date: One that I made up that combines elements of Intangible and Fixed Date.
  • Cycle Time: Elapsed time from the beginning of one work stage to the next (e.g., “The QA cycle time is outstripping the Dev cycle time”). Because of this rather technical definition, I prefer to use Delivery Time (below) to refer to what many people call Cycle Time.
  • Delivery Time: Elapsed time from Commitment point to Delivery point.
  • Deployment Frequency: One of the so-called “four key metrics” of devops. Measures the number of deployments per period of time (e.g., deployments per week).
  • Engagement, or Employee Engagement: the levels of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization. It’s a measure of how motivated people are to put in extra effort for their organization, and a sign of how committed they are to staying there (https://academy.cultureamp.com/hc/en-us/articles/204539759-What-is-Employee-Engagement-). I prefer this to “employee happiness” because it’s a richer, less variable measurement and to “employee retention” because it is richer and a better leading indicator.
  • Flow:  the movement and delivery of customer value through a process (Vacanti in Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability)
  • Flow Manager: an emergent role that looks after and encourages flow in a team (see https://www.infoq.com/articles/flow-manager-deliver-fast-smooth/)
  • Guild: A community of interest. A centered rather than bounded group. Popularized by the so-called Spotify Model (see Spotify Model). One powerful example that I have initiated and seen work in organization is a guild of facilitators, comprised of people from many different roles who offer the service of facilitation to colleagues.
  • Kanban: A word that has multiple connotations, which is important to understand before entering the conversation:
    • Work-visualization board, derived from the Japanese word “kanban” (meaning “sign,” “signal card,” “tally,” or “large visual board”)
    • A pull-system enabled by virtual kanbans which signal capacity and create flow, reduce overburdening and yield other benefits.
    • Continuous-flow-based delivery; “iteration-decoupled delivery cadences.”
    • Kanban Method: a method for defining, managing, and improving services that deliver knowledge work, such as professional services, creative endeavors, and the design of both physical and software products.
  • NoEstimates/BeyondEstimates: An approach to answering the question “When will it be done?” using less effort and considering more than simply effort as a source of variation. The approach itself can be described as a spectrum (see https://www.slideshare.net/MatthewPhilip/forecasting-with-less-effort-and-more-accuracy-agile-camp-ny-2018)
  • On-time Delivery Rate: Measures the rate at which work items with true due dates are delivered by their due dates (e.g., 92% of items).
  • Probabilistic Forecasting: An alternative to traditional upfront estimating that provides a range of possible outcomes and a percentage likelihood of each (usually done via Monte Carlo simulation). This approach is enabled by a kanban system. See also NoEstimates.
  • Safety (also Psychological Safety): the extent to which a person or team views the social climate as conducive to interpersonal risk (A. Edmondson)
  • Scrum of Scrums: Meant to be a synchronization meeting between scrum masters. I encourage scrum masters to sync on an as-needed basis rather than either wait for a scheduled meeting or attend a scheduled meeting when they don’t have a need.
  • Spotify Model: A way of organizing horizontally and vertically such that a person’s primary identity is with his or her delivery team, as opposed to a functional/role affiliation. However, with guilds and chapters, the model provides support that is often missing in strictly delivery-team oriented affiliations. The model comes with the obligatory caveats to not simply install it, be aware of your own organization’s context, etc., though I feel some of the recent backlash is overwrought. It’s a useful model for most groups that I’ve worked with.
  • Standup Meeting: An energized, daily microplanning of a team to plan flow for the next 24 hours, no more and no less. Should have the attributes of a timeout in a sporting contest, like in a basketball game. Should follow a pattern of “walking the wall” in which the team collaboratively views their kanban board and considers the new three questions.
  • Swim lane: a horizontal lane on a kanban board crossing two or more columns along which cards flow (Kanban Condensed). Not to be confused with Stages, which are the vertical areas on the board.
  • Throughput: The number of work items exiting a system or subsystem per unit of time, whether completed or discarded. Measured in: work items per unit of time (Kanban Condensed). E.g., user stories per week. The main service-delivery metric measuring output and one of the “Big Three” flow metrics.
  • Three S’s: Scheduling, selecting and sequencing of work. I prefer this language to simple “priority” because it encompasses cost of delay thinking and planning and provides better nuance.
  • Work in Progress (WIP): Work that has been started but not yet finished.