The team returned to the meeting room in better spirits. Kate had drawn a new picture on her tablet.
“Welcome back,” Kate said. “Jim? Susan? Do you have some stories for us?”
Jim took the lead. “We brought five stories, not because we expect five but because we’re not sure whether they are too small or too large. Normally we’d have time to talk with some of the team members to get a sense of size. This time we had to guess. OK”?
Jim and Gil had been leaning forward, ready to leap, but sat back. “OK,” Jim said. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Should we put them all up at once,? Susan said.
Gil said, “Let’s go one at a time and talk a bit about what each one involves.”
The team all nodded.
One story at a time, Susan and Jim described what they needed. After each one, the team discussed how they might test that story, and talked a bit about how the story could be implemented.
When they got finished with the third story, Kate noticed that the team was looking tense. “How is it looking, gang? You look a bit edgy.”
Chuck spoke up. “In the earlier meeting, I was pretty optimistic about getting last week’s five all done. We talked about it during the break, and I’m still optimistic but I think there might be more work than I thought. I feel like this is enough, or maybe even too much.”
Kate said, “Are your stories in priority order, Jim and Susan?” They nodded. “Shall we look at the other two while we’re here, or stop now?”
Jim Anderson said, “I’d like to hear the other two. It won’t take long and it’ll give us a look at the future.” The team seemed to agree.
After all five stories had been discussed, Kate said: “OK. We’re looking at finishing last iteration’s stories and some of these. What do you think?”
Carlos said, “It would help me if we could put the old stories up on the board and task them out.”
Gil said, “We already know what we have to do for those. We don’t need to review.”
Carlos sat back, but Kate said, “I don’t want to be here all day, but let me ask a question, Gil. If we had everyone in the room write down on a sheet of paper what the five other stories are, and what work needs to be done, would all the sheets agree?
“I’m the disappointed story lady, and I really don’t want to be disappointed again, and I don’t want your children and kitties to starve. Should we take some time, or take a chance?”
Gil said, “OK, good point. Obviously Carlos isn’t sure, so let’s review. I’m sure we could figure it out but let’s be a bit more explicit, since we screwed up last time.”
It didn’t take long to put the other stories up on the board and to brainstorm the work that needed to be done.
Kate said, “OK. I noticed that there was a bit of discovery there. We saw a task that wasn’t mentioned this morning, and we found a task that could be done another way. I’m thinking that was worth doing.
“Now let’s take a short break and see what I can look forward to when I come in to the story store next week.”
Commitment time ...
“OK, crew,” Kate said. “Looking at these ten stories on the board, what do you think?
No one spoke. After a while, Chuck said, “I still think we are good for the original five stories in two days. I’m sure the one I was working on is only a day, then I can pitch in on something else.”
Jim looked around the room. “Two days, guaranteed?”
Again no one spoke. Then Carlos said, “Let’s play it safe and say three, then shoot for two.”
That seemed to be a good idea.
“OK,” said Kate. “What else can be accomplished?”
The team huddled a bit. Then Jim said, “I know we said three before, but these are a bit larger than we had in mind or something. We’re sure we can do the first two. Maybe the third, but maybe not.”
“Probably not,” said Alice. “All three of these need GUI work that I’ll need to do. I really don’t think it happens.”
Susan wrote on a card, and handed it to Kate with a grin.
Kate grinned. “Good Susan,” she said. “Biscuit later. Gang, Susan’s card says ‘Stretch Goal?’. What do you think?”
“I say go for it,” said Jim. Some of the team nodded, some just sat there.
“Objections?” asked Kate. Again silence.
Finally Jim spoke up. “Kate, Susan and I have been pushing the team to ‘stretch goals’ right along. We think they respond well to a little challenge.”
Kate looked around. “I don’t see smiling faces, Jim. And when you’ve pushed the team to stretch goals, what has happened? Do they meet them?”
Susan raised her hand and got the nod. “I happen to know that. About three-fourths of the time, they fail to deliver one or two stories. When they do deliver, every single time at least one of the stories turned out to be seriously incomplete or broken.”
Jim said, “Yes. Think how bad things would have been if we didn’t keep the pressure on!”
It seemed like the entire dev team snarled. Gil jumped up. “Damn it, you just set us up to fail! We tell you what we can accomplish and then you push us to do more. If we do the job right, we fail. If we do the job wrong, we ship crap. Stretch goals, my ass!”
Everyone kind of fell back. Gil looked around, then said, “Well, sorry. But it’s crap. We can’t win. We can’t even tie.”
Kate said, “Let’s see if I understand. Someone said–I don’t remember who–that under pressure, programmers have secret quality dials that they are tempted to turn in order to make a deadline that should never have been set. The result is code that never comes together, or that seems to work but isn’t really robust. Is that what you mean, Gil? Leaving your seat out of it?”
Gil said, “Yes, that’s it. And it’s crap. It asks us to produce crap and I don’t want to live that way. I’m here to do good work. Damn it.”
Kate laughed. “Well at least you’re consistent about this. What about the rest of you? Do you agree with Gil’s point, if not his format?”
Right around the table, the developers agreed. Chuck said, “Yes. I’m here to do good work. I know what good work is. I really value the clarity we’re getting with these smaller stories. But it doesn’t help me to have work piled on to work.”
Alice said, “Yes. And it’s worse than that. Remember you asked if others could do the GUI work that I do. They nearly could, with a little coaching. But if I have too many stories to do, I don’t have the time to sit with people and help them work through things. That takes a little longer the first few times. Under pressure I feel I don’t have the time and I’m too stressed to do it.”
Kate said, “Jim? Susan? It sounds to me like your ‘stretch goal’ strategy has never really worked. You usually don’t get what you want and what you do get isn’t as good. What do you think?”
Susan went to speak, but Jim held up his hand. “Let me say it. We’re afraid if we don’t keep the pressure on, the team won’t go as fast as they could. They may lay back and take it easy.”
Again the team erupted. This time Kate held up her hand. “Let me take this one.
“How would you feel, Jim, or you, Susan, if Dan told you that he thought you weren’t working as hard as you could, and started pushing more work on you?
“Take a moment, then be truthful. Feel it, and tell us how it feels.”
Jim and Susan paused. Then Jim said, “I’d hate it. Dan knows we’re the best. He gave us these jobs. He should trust us to do the right things and to do them right. Dan’s not like that anyway. Dan would coach us and help us, not treat us like …”
Kate said, “Like what?”
Jim said, “I get it. We’re making the team feel untrusted, and by pushing more work on them, we overload them.”
Kate said, “And why does that overload them? Why don’t they just go along at the slacker pace you’re worried about and deliver what they can? What could possibly explain what they do?”
Susan chipped in. “They’re not good enough …”
Kate stopped her. “No one is ever good enough. Everyone is as good as they are. If they’re getting in trouble trying to reach stretch goals, not being good enough can’t be the real cause.”
Jim said, again, “I get it. They do poorly because they’re trying to do what we ask, and it is too much for them.”
Kate said, “Exactly. And what does that tell us about trust?”
A long silence ensued. Finally, Jim nodded. “They’re failing because they’re trying to do to much. The fact that they’re trying tells us that they’re willing to work hard and that we don’t need to push them. We can trust them to work hard.”
Kate gathered everyone’s eyes. “Is that right, team? Can we trust that you’re doing your best?”
Gil laughed. “Let’s see, we could say no, or we could say yes …
“Yes, you can trust us. We’re professionals. We do this work because we want to do it well.”
Kate said, “One more thing, and we’ll close. Jim, Susan? When the team has fallen short of the stretch goals, how do you feel?”
Susan said, “I feel let down. I feel like they broke a promise.”
The team rustled. Susan went on, “Oh. They didn’t promise. They always said ‘We’ll try.’ Anyway, I do feel disappointed.”
Exactly, said Kate. “I would as well. So when Binary Girl the Feature-buying Lady leaves today, what shall we tell her? Seven, or eight?”
Carl said, “We can do seven. Tell her seven. Right gang?”
Everyone on the team nodded or said yes.
Kate looked around. “OK. We’re all tired. Tough meeting today but I think it has been worth it. The team says they can do seven. Next week BG the SL will be expecting seven. Let’s close for now, but tomorrow I’d like a brief session with interested folks to talk about what we should do to make sure we get seven, and what to do if it turns out we can’t. Would 9 AM work for that? Attendance is optional.”
“OK, seven stories it is. Thanks. See you tomorrow.”
The team filed out. Kate gestured Susan to stay. “Susan? I’d still like to have a session with you. Today? Or is tomorrow better after all this?”
“Do we have to?” said Susan. “I’ll be good.”
“Yes, please,” Kate said. “I just want to help you understand what I’m up to.”
“OK, tomorrow then. After the 9 AM thing?”
“Great,” said Kate. “Don’t worry. I promise not to blow my whistle.”
“Yikes, I hadn’t even thought to worry about that. OK. I’ll just stay after the 9 o’clock, OK?”
Kate said, “That’ll work fine. Thanks. Bye for now.”