Figure 1 shows an enormous initial discrepancy between commitment and progress, which is typical for teams just starting to learn how to estimate and deliver within an iteration. Consider a freshly formed team with members who previously worked in an environment where someone else (e.g., senior architect) made estimates on their behalf. Teams in which a majority of members are immature with respect to hard and soft skills may also fall under this category. Learning to estimate and deliver, the team shortens the distance between lines. Ideally, the lines should converge at some point, but a more realistic goal is the velocity function and committed work items functioning together with a small difference between their values. This is what you should aim for as a team coach through the first iterations.
It’s common for a team to overestimate their potential substantially when attempting their first iteration. By stepping down their commitment, along with some other changes, they begin to reduce the initial gap. As they achieve better results, they may feel that all major problems already have been overcome and again attempt to commit to far more than they can deliver. Eventually, they recognize which issues impact their ability to match their commitment and progress.
This is the ideal course, but reality may be more difficult. Don’t count on the learning process being smooth. In most cases, it is a long and tough endeavor. Depending on team members’ skill levels (described further in part 2 of this article), it may take three to eight iterations to achieve a high ratio. If it takes more than eight iterations, then the odds are against its success unless some circumstances change.
Figure 2: High ratio with local disturbances
Most teams should aim for the high commitment-to-progress ratio in figure 2. What a team can deliver is quite predictable, because the distance between commitment and progress is short and the correlation is high. There always exist some local disturbances, and the time it takes to return harmony between the commitment and progress depends on the scale of the disturbance. A significant disturbance might be triggered by a new technology, a new environment around the team (e.g., a new deployment process), a new business domain, or a change in the definition of “done,” all of which add variability by introducing new circumstances to which it takes team members extra time to adjust.