One of the immense difficulties I have faced while running production engineering-type teams is how much-unplanned work can drop into their daily workload. I am still trying to solve the root problem of why we get so much unplanned work but the first item on my list is to find a way to measure it first. Measure, then tackle is my go-to operating mode.
Many engineering teams face the challenge of balancing planned development work with unplanned operational tasks. Without proper measurement, the impact of unplanned work on the team’s overall capacity can be difficult to gauge. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some strategies for measuring and managing unplanned work in engineering teams, drawing from the book “Making Work Visible” by Dominica DeGrandis.
Setting Capacity Limits
One approach to managing unplanned work is to set capacity limits for the team. By ensuring that team members never schedule themselves to more than 75% of their capacity, they can have the necessary headroom to handle most unplanned work without increasing their workload or impacting delivery dates. If there’s less operational work than expected in a given sprint, more stories can be pulled from the backlog. In cases where there’s a particularly bad incident or a busy operational week, external customers can be contacted to manage expectations and adjust delivery dates.
Allocating a Buffer
Teams that regularly encounter unplanned work, such as support or on-call teams, should allocate a buffer for the amount of time this work tends to take. This can be determined through analyzing historical data, such as how much time the team spent on unplanned work in the previous weeks or months. By accounting for this buffer when making plans, the team can ensure that they have the necessary resources to handle unplanned work without it affecting their planned development work.
However, it’s important to note that this buffer shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to constantly fill team members’ schedules to 100% capacity. In fact, according to the “Making Work Visible” book, teams should strive to operate at around 80% capacity to allow for the flexibility needed to handle unplanned work. This means that teams should aim to keep a portion of their time available for unplanned work, rather than scheduling every minute of their day. By adopting this approach, teams can reduce the stress and strain caused by unplanned work, while also ensuring that they are able to deliver quality work on time.
Measuring and Analyzing Unplanned Work
It’s also important to measure and analyze unplanned work to better understand its impact on the team’s capacity. Teams can use tools such as time tracking and project management software to track the amount of time spent on unplanned work. By analyzing this data, teams can identify trends and patterns and adjust their planning accordingly.
In conclusion, measuring and managing unplanned work is crucial for ensuring that engineering teams can balance operational tasks with planned development work. By setting capacity limits, allocating a buffer, and analyzing unplanned work, teams can better understand and manage their workload.