In the race to launch your ELITE Minimum Viable Product (MVP), ensuring your team's velocity is firing on all cylinders is crucial. But what happens when your team encounters obstacles that seem to hinder progress and slow down deliverables? This article will unravel the top six velocity bottlenecks that can keep your team from reaching their maximum velocity while building an MVP. By understanding these challenges and adopting effective strategies, you can unleash your engineering team's maximum velocity and drive your product to new heights of success.
1. Task Clarity
One of the most common obstacles to achieving peak velocity is a need for precise and well-defined product requirements. Inadequate clarity can lead to misinterpretations, frequent scope changes, and wasted effort, slowing development. Sometimes for the sake of time or effort, details are not written into an engineer's task, but what is not defined cannot be expected. Project managers set engineers up for failure when expected deliverables are not detailed in their tasks. For example, in front-end engineering, many components have different states, and asking an engineer to add a visited state to a link component without designs or descriptions can lead to unexpected results.
All engineers do not think the same, nor do they have the same experiences. What may seem right to one could be wrong for another. For that reason, I have a no-guesswork policy. When assigning tasks to engineers, project managers should define the expected deliverables in detail. When details are unavailable during sprint planning, remove them from the scope to avoid confusion. Requiring engineers to revisit requirements while working on deliverables reduces productivity and cuts their coding time. Avoid marking incomplete tasks ready for development; this behavior almost always becomes a habit.
Finally, scope creep should not be categorized as bugs when testing deliverables. If a tester finds a requirement gap, add a task for a new sprint, but categorizing scope creep as a bug is not an accurate representation of the matter. Furthermore, it causes the new requirement to miss the proper vetting process. There are a lot of great technologies out there that can provide powerful insights, but the insights are only as good as the data. If bugs are assigned when appropriate, it will likely tell an informative story. There could be patterns of missed requirements, automation opportunities for commonly overlooked tasks, and more. Save yourself the headache and adapt a ticketing workflow with comprehensive criteria for when a task is ready for development.
2. Poor Task Assignment Strategies
Assembling a dream team of skilled developers is just the beginning. Effective task assignment is the key to unlocking their full potential. When project managers do not distribute tasks optimally, teams struggle; some members are overburdened, while others need to be more utilized. A lack of alignment between team members' skills and assigned tasks can lead to inefficiencies and delays. Project managers and engineering leads must invest time understanding each team member's strengths and weaknesses to allocate tasks appropriately.
Once engineering leaders and project managers can gauge an engineer's strengths and weaknesses, using a task strategy to optimize their strengths is vital. The Domain-driven assignment strategy emphasizes the importance of creating in-house experts to optimize team velocity. The idea is to assign an engineer to a domain like forms, graphs, animation, cms integrations, and typography and allow them the time to master that domain. Domains should be small enough that an engineer can manage multiple domains simultaneously. Overall, having go-to experts oversee the development of their domains ensures the code follows best practices, early identification and optimal resolution of pitfalls, and deliverables are delivered right the first time due to the repetition. Consistently delivering quality boosts an engineer's confidence which increases velocity.
3. Technical Debt Accumulation
Undoubtedly, fast-paced development cycles often necessitate quick decision-making and expedited code changes. However, an overemphasis on speed without considering the technical debt incurred can lead to severe ramifications later. Unresolved technical debt accumulates over time, resulting in maintenance burdens, reduced code quality, and a slowdown in future development. By adopting a proactive approach toward addressing technical debt and implementing clean coding practices, your team can maintain a healthy codebase, paving the way for sustained velocity and continuous improvement.
A key solution to managing technical debt is tracking it. Out of sight, out of mind, it's easy to minimize the priority of technical debt when we don't know the size of it. Use your ticketing system to backlog and prioritize technical debt; habitually spread the task assignment in future sprints. As an engineer, I must admit this is something engineers prefer to avoid because it adds up quickly and is typically alarming to stakeholders.
To address concerns about the technical debt backlog, take the time to create and prioritize the tasks at the end of each sprint. Fortunately, most technical debt is minor but can cause unnecessary concern if not prioritized. Also, you will eventually notice patterns and have the opportunity to group items and develop solutions that close several tickets simultaneously. Finally, if there are important issues, having a context when it's time to reevaluate helps engineers hit the ground running and resolve the matter by leveraging fresh insights. What I learned is that there is more power in knowing versus assuming. Seeing too much technical debt is not a reason to stop reporting it; it is a reason to reevaluate your process. Project managers and stakeholders can only make informed decisions if the data exists.
4. Overlooking Continuous Learning and Knowledge Sharing
Innovation thrives on learning and knowledge sharing. By continuously learning and sharing, the team creates an unmatched synergy. Stagnant skills hinder your team's ability to adapt to new challenges and emerging technologies. Failure to invest in continuous learning and skill development can lead to inefficiencies, reduced innovation, and a gradual decline in velocity.
When teams operate in silos, valuable insights and expertise remain isolated, impeding the project's progress. A culture of open communication and knowledge sharing encourages cross-functional collaboration, sparks creativity, and fosters a supportive environment for growth. Facilitate regular knowledge-sharing sessions, organize team workshops, implement collaborative tools to exchange ideas freely, and create a safe space for experimentation. Keeping your team's skills sharp and up-to-date enables them to tackle complex problems confidently and creatively, ultimately enhancing their velocity and MVP's success.
5. Inefficient Feedback Loops and Communication
Efficient feedback loops and clear communication are the lifeblood of successful development teams. Delays in feedback, miscommunication, and lack of transparency can lead to misunderstandings, rework, and decreased productivity. Cultivate an environment that encourages regular feedback sessions, open discussions, and a collaborative spirit. By streamlining communication and ensuring a quick feedback loop, your team can swiftly iterate on the MVP, identify areas for improvement, and maintain a high level of velocity.
Frequent places of delay are testing deliverables, code review feedback, and sprint retrospectives. The delay in testing deliverables is typically due to QA being over capacity. Sometimes the ratio of engineers to QA is off; for QA to be effective, they must be thorough, which takes time. QA's capacity must be taken into account when planning a sprint. The engineering team has to prioritize prompt code review feedback. The top issue here is capacity. Making time for code reviews can be challenging because engineers have a full plate each sprint. Use the sprint retrospective to discuss time allocation. As with anything else, it takes time to adjust, but there will be progress with communication.
Lastly, sprint retrospectives are an excellent opportunity to have positive discussions. Depending on the company or team culture, it may be challenging to get full participation. If your team is not communicating during the retrospective, provide a template of questions for them to answer before the retro. The questions will help them reflect on the sprint and get discussion ideas flowing. A retro can be quiet if everyone finishes their work on time with few bugs. Otherwise, there is something to discuss.
6. Inconsistent Designs
Picture this: your development team is diligently working on their tasks but repeatedly encounters design inconsistencies and discrepancies in the product's user interface. The consequences? Both engineers and designers need more time to discuss the differences, cutting into their work time. Such inconsistencies lead to a fragmented user experience and halt your team's velocity. To combat this, collaborate closely with your design team. Sometimes a new component is necessary, but there has to be an established process for introducing a new component, and it cannot be while introducing a new section. A task should adhere to SRP, the single responsibility principle—one component per task.
When designers create a new component or variation of an existing component, even if it's a one-off, they should present it as such. Notifying the cross-functional team ensures it goes through the proper vetting process and engineering workflow to get all the necessary bells and whistles. Creating a new task for new components reduces bloat on the larger section because the code review is smaller, the qa is simpler, and the work to build the larger area is less. Consistency is critical to streamlining deliverables, don't switch your component development process due to pressure; instead, figure out how to simplify your ticket creation for components. Also, if the component is as small and minor as expected, it can be assigned in parallel and completed before the more extensive section. Engineers can use a placeholder in the bigger area until the new component is complete. A streamlined design pass-off process paves the way for seamless implementation and accelerates your MVP's time-to-market.
Launching an ELITE MVP requires an ELITE mindset. Each team member must be empowered, informed, and technically inclined, leveraging a lean philosophy while striving for excellence. Addressing this article's top six velocity bottlenecks can empower your engineering team to unleash their maximum velocity. Invest in precise requirements, identify a task assignment strategy that works for your team and project, keep your technical debt in sight, create an environment that fosters learning and knowledge-sharing, prioritize timely feedback, and work closely with design. Being on the same page with your cross-functional team will positively impact your engineering team's velocity; learn their velocity as early as possible to establish a baseline. With a baseline, it is easier to gauge if and when there is a decline or whether new methodologies are working. As I've said, insights are only as good as the data provided.