Increasing utilization of your scrum team

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Several days ago having a discussion with the CEO of a startup about how to increase the utilization inside of a scrum team. His teams were formed by QC/FrontEnd/Backend/Design. This in fact is a common pain that can be seen on many teams starting with scrum.

I think that the best way to solve this problem is to foster the cooperation between the product owner and the team, to decide what other tasks with the high value could be added on the sprint to balance the workload of the team.

Feeling based decision

During the sprint planning, the team will pick up items from the backlog until they feel that their capacity is maxed out. Once the team can’t take in more items that “done” from the top of the backlog. Then PO/SM can ask the team to get the feeling of utilization for some roles using questions like:

  • “Can we do more on QC?”
  • “Can we do more on Front End?”

Utilization based decision

Talking about hours seems a tabu in agile, but in the planning could be okay for some teams as long as it helps for their self organization.

If the team does task/hour breakdown and type of task definition during the planning, this will surface people’s roles with fewer hours of work available.

Filling the gap

Once you know the resources that will have extra available time the team and the PO can go through your top of the backlog and find high-value items that might help them to balance the workload. Once the item is identified the team can decide to add them now to the sprint, or pull them once they have available bandwidth.

Push vs Pull

For self organized teams it is better to promote Pull mode vs Push mode. If a manager is pushing what tasks needs to be done and when that will impact the ability of the team to self organize, affecting negatively in the flow of the team.

I like a lot the sentence from Henrik Knieberg, “if you think 100% utilization is good, remember the last time that you were in a traffic jump”.

Closing words

This is not a perfect solution but your best chance is a cooperation between the PO and the team. I personally like more utilization based decisions, since it fosters collaboration and trust among PO and team.

If this keeps happening then your team might be not balanced and the team should discuss the best ways to balance.

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