The five stages of team focus

Here they are:

  • Stage 1: Solo workstreams. Everyone works on their own thing.
  • Stage 2: Nobody works alone. Every workstream has at least two people on it.
  • Stage 3: Squads. Split the team into two to three smaller teams, each with their own workstream.
  • Stage 4: Single team focus. The entire team works on the same workstream.
  • Stage 5: Mobbing. The entire team works on the same task within a workstream.

Remember the types of waste? Let’s see how the stages affect them.

  • Partially done work: Less at higher stages due to fewer workstreams in progress at any given time. Each individual workstream gets done more quickly.
  • Extra features: Probably unaffected, although at lower stages, people are more likely to rabbit-hole or gold-plate things unnecessarily due to being siloed.
  • Relearning: Less at higher stages due to everyone always learning the same things at the same time. This prevents the situation where someone has to respond to an incident or add a feature to something that they never worked on originally.
  • Task switching: Less at higher stages due to reduced workstreams, so there are fewer things someone can be pulled to on any given day.
  • Waiting: Probably unaffected, although if done poorly, higher stages can have more waiting due to stepping on toes or blocking teammates (but this is where mobbing can save you).
  • Handoffs: Less at higher stages due to the entire team shepherding the workstream through start to finish, rather than having specialization and “phases” where things are handed off from person to person (e.g., planning, execution, code review, QA).
  • Defects: Less at higher stages and drastically reduced at stage five, because more eyes on the problem means less defects. In fact, mobbing can make code review irrelevant.
  • Management activities: Less at higher stages due to reduced overhead of having to oversee and manage so many workstreams.

To reduce waste, reduce workstreams. To reduce workstreams, focus the entire team around a single most important problem and do more mobbing.

And that’s just waste. The other Lean principles besides “Minimize waste” improve as you move up the stages too:

  • Amplify learning: Working together means learning from each other, and everyone on the team learns everything that everyone else on the team is doing.
  • Decide as late as possible: One workstream at a time means you can wait to decide on the next one (both prioritization of it and implementation plan for it) until the previous one is wrapping up.
  • Deliver as fast as possible: A workstream is delivered faster when more of the team works on it. Brooke’s Law doesn’t apply here; that is specifically about adding manpower to an already-behind-schedule project.
  • Empower the team: Probably unaffected by the stages…?
  • Build integrity in: Integrity improves as more people see the code and point out things like brittle areas, missing monitoring, flaky automated tests, outdated docs, etc.
  • Optimize the whole: The team as a whole is more well rounded than any individual person on it. So the team will be able to do a better job balancing the forest and the trees than a single person ever could.

Now, argue with me! I want to build a rude Q&A around this. Why aren’t you convinced that your team should move up the stages? Email me and let me know.

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