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Hold Off On Putting Names To Those Tasks

Often times in iteration planning teams task out the stories, put people's names on the tasks and have them estimate the tasks. Each person gets an understanding of what they're slotted to take on in the iteration and can then determine if it is reasonable to commit to the iteration content. While the names are often "in pencil" and subject to change based on how the iteration goes, there are good reasons not to put them on there at this point.

The first reason has to do with iteration planning itself. Once someone else's name is put on the task, others will tend to focus less on making sure they understand it. Similarly, the estimate is often done just by the person slotted to do it. Both of these become an issue if someone else needs to take on the task. Even if the original person does the work, it can mean the rest of the team is less aware of its implications.

Secondly, the commitment tends to be a bunch of individual commitments rather than a team commitment. People commit to what they've been slotted to do. This encourages focus on individual success rather than team success. It doesn't matter if that person gets their tasks done or not. It matters whether the team is successful in the stories for the iteration. By not putting names on the tasks, you force a more team oriented commitment.

Just as important is the behavior that holding off on putting names on the tasks encourages within the iteration. If a person finishes their first task, they'll move on to the next one with their name on it even if that task is less important than others not being worked yet. By not putting a name until someone is working on it, you encourage people to take on the most important one that they can help with. This reinforces team behavior and keeps the team focused on the higher priority items.

Once you start deferring name association, you can start refining it a bit. People should take on the highest priority task that they can help with. They shouldn't take on more than 1 or 2 tasks at a time. Etc. This helps to establish flow. You can track it in your agile tool of choice or on a kanban board.

How do you determine how much to take on? You can do so by totaling up the hours and comparing to previous iterations or you can skip task estimates and simply go with story points vs. velocity.

Some times little things can make a big difference. With one of the teams I've been working with recently, simply deferring putting names to tasks definitely fell into this category. It helped a lot with team work, focus and productivity. Give it a try.

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