almost every aspect of a business. As a result, there may be a tendency to fall into this trap.
In our early sprints we regularly planned more than we could reasonably complete in two weeks (our standard sprint duration). Our intentions were always good, but we continued to fall short of our own expectations. During our retrospectives we would revisit our estimations but they always appeared to be fairly accurate. We eventually identified the sources of our "lost time"–one, we were spending too much time in meetings.
A team member suggested that we apply the concept of kanban (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban) to our meetings, essentially, limiting the number of meetings we could conduct in a single sprint. The group accepted the idea and implemented it with "Yellow Cards"–an appropriate soccer analogy which implies a warning but not a significant foul. A yellow card could represent an internal or external group meeting. Furthermore, each card represented a meeting for 1 team member (with other organizations) for an hour or 2 team members for ½ an hour. Meetings of 15 minutes or less were not significant enough to track. Finally, during each planning session the team would limit the number of acceptable meeting cards that made it to our corkboard - usually 7. When the yellow cards ran out, NO MORE MEETINGS.
The results were better than expected. First, only meaningful meetings occurred. If there was not a good reason to have a meeting it simply did not happen. People were reluctant to waste a scarce resource (meeting). Second, because time was limited, meetings became more efficient and people came more prepared. Finally, many (if not most) meetings were replaced with desk-side discussions of 15 minutes or less. We continued to encourage regular communication, but wanted it to be concise, directed, and meaningful. It is important to note, that particularly significant or longer meetings are planned separately as tasks–e.g. website design meetings, sales campaign kickoff, etc.
Lesson 3: Interruptions–the nature of the business
As previously mentioned, our team regularly over committed in early sprints. Besides meetings, we discovered that interruptions (new requirements) were regularly occurring during ALL of our marketing sprints. E.g. a link in our website would suddenly get a 404 error or a newspaper needed an interview on the following day. These were important tasks that needed to be addressed immediately. Instead of canceling more sprints (which was not very popular with our product owner), we created a mechanism that allowed us to accurately plan for and efficiently handle new requirements in the middle of a sprint.
A common suggestion that we received was to move lower priority items out of the sprint as new more important requirements surfaced. We tried this approach but it became too burdensome to shuffle tasks and reprioritize almost daily. Furthermore, the interruptions were almost predictable in number, but not in form. Essentially we could plan for them, even though we did not know when or where they would appear.
As a result, we introduced the concept of the Purple Bullet. The name was simply derived from the fact that we had an ample supply of purple index cards. Purple bullets were also designed to be a scarce resource - the team was empowered to accept a certain number (kanban applied) without having to involve the product owner for reprioritization or to regroup for additional planning. The only requirement was that each high priority interruption was documented on the purple card so we could review them during the retrospective.
This particular practice has become one of the most pervasive lessons throughout our business Scrums. Unlike many software