Work Decomposition

In order to effectively understand and implement the work breakdown flow, the team needs to have the following prerequisites and understandings.

Work Breakdown Process

The goal of the work breakdown process is to decompose work into small batches that can be delivered frequently, multiples times a week, in order to deliver value faster with less rework.

The general work breakdown process involves:

Work Breakdown Flow

It is important that the team keep these tips in mind when decomposing work:

  1. Known poor quality should not flow downstream. This includes acceptance criteria that require interpretation. If the acceptance criteria cannot be understood by the whole team then we are developing defects, not value.
  2. Refining work requires significant brainpower and is the primary quality process. Meetings should be planned around this. Hold them when people are mentally alert and time box them to prevent mental fatigue.
  3. Good acceptance criteria come from good communication. Avoid the following anti-patterns:
    1. Someone outside the team writes acceptance criteria and hands it to the team. Since the team was not involved with the conversation, there’s no chance to uncover assumptions and the team has less investment in the outcomes.
    2. One person on the team writes acceptance criteria. Same problem is above.
    3. Each team member is assigned work based on their expertise. This removes communication and also ensures that people are only focused on understanding their tasks. Again, the team as a whole isn’t invested in the outcomes. This typically results in finger pointing when something fails. Also, if someone is unavailable, the rest of the team lacks context to pick it up.
  4. Refining should be focused on outcomes, not volume. If we have a 1 hour meeting and 10 stories to refine, it’s better to have one fully refined story we can work on than 10 partially refined stories that we’ll “figure out during development”. Stop refining a story when we agree on the acceptance criteria or agree it’s blocked and needs more information. Only then should we move to the next story. Stop the meeting at the scheduled time.


Intake/Product Ideas

Ideas become epics with defined outcomes, clear goals and value. Epics become a list of features.

Common struggles for teams when breaking down ideas into epics and features:

Refining Epics/Features into Stories

Stories are observable changes that have clear acceptance criteria, and can be completed in less than two days. Stories are made up of one or more tasks.

Typic al problems teams experience with decomposition are:

Refining Stories into Development Tasks

Tasks are independently deployable changes that can be merged to trunk daily.

Breaking stories down into tasks gives teams the ability to swarm work and deliver value faster.

In order for teams to visualize tasks required to implement scenarios, they need to understand what a good task looks like.

Measuring Success

Tracking the team’s Development Cycle Time is the best way to judge improvements to decomposition. Stories should take 1-2 days to deliver and should not have rework, delays waiting for explanations, or dependencies on other stories or teams.

Last modified December 15, 2022: Fixing some typos (#28) (9efde39)