Long story short, it’s a myth…

You got time for the long story?

The key thing is your board needs to flow and the work on the board needs to be valuable to our customers. It is impossible to cut them down to all the same size without lots of extra work or by making them so small they are no longer valuable. Why waste this time?

First let’s accept that we have different work item types and understand what these are. You can read more about this in another one of my blogs.

From this we already know that we have different sized tickets moving through our boards. We would never want just one ticket type because it will be false in the lead times it takes. Breaking down ticket types and understanding each of their lead times means we can then use this to have conversations with our customers about Service Level Expectations. We know that this also changes over time and so something that we need to continue to monitor.

A great chart to look at is your Lead Time Tracker/Histogram to understand the size of your work. Most tools will have something similar to this in the system. The below is an example taken from PowerBi.

When talking to our customers if we give them a forecast with a spread of variation of between 5-8 days to delivery, are they going to be happy? I think I probably would be within that range. Spread of variation is just a fancy pants way of saying the difference between your first data point and your last.

But if I was told the spread of variation was between 0-150 days..then we do have a problem here, and maybe not all tickets are created equal, and so I could see the need to keep them on the smaller size. So it is easy to see where this myth comes from.

But then my little grey brain cells start thinking.. What causes us to have such a massive spread? The chances are this is caused by delays, blockers, third parties, not handing over for holidays etc.

So before I start forcing people to create tickets the same size, I need to understand why they took that time in the first place and that is a great piece of analysis and I imagine you will get lots of improvements out of that conversation.

Next, I take a closer look at my Story Lead Time Tracker. Let’s take a look at the one I showed you earlier.

Do you see where I added the arrows there is a bump? Well, this tells me that I might still have different work items listed as stories. Multiple peaks are the thing that gives us a clue. So again we have to analyse and break out work items types out further if required. Turns out with this team we have some small, medium and large stories they do and so that is the reason for this.

Now let us address flow…What does that even really mean?!? For me, it means work in and work out at roughly the same rate, and doesn’t hang around in buffers, blocked or waiting for long periods of time.

You want good flow in your stories and this is what keeps the data closer to the left-hand side. But if you see the data edging out to the right. You want to again do that analysis and understand why.

Cadences in Kanban such as Delivery planning, Daily Kanban and the Flow Review are great at keeping an eye on work moving across the board. Consider implementing these to help you.

The final factor for me is ironically story splitting. Whilst we don’t talk about this as much as Scrum does there is a sensible rule of thumb here. You don’t want a ticket that says ‘Deliver me payment methods’ as this is super huge, but more deliver me credit cards, PayPal and gift vouchers. Think about the smaller chunks that will give you value.

So all these factors need to come into consideration for why your work is taking longer than expected to go through the system. The analysis of all of this really gets me motivated to find out those root causes. This is the thing we need to do!

Remember, if I told the teams to make stories all 5 days in size. What value would that give me or the customer? The team would just spend precious time gaming the system. The better approach is to keep them flowing and tackle those issues that make them take longer.

So don’t waste your time making them all the same size…analyse and set new team policies. Look at your spread of variation and if it is wild..you know you need to do something! Process improve your way to a 5-day lead time, rather than faking it.