About 2 months ago I started my “Who Is” serie. The idea was to ask a a bunch of diverse people some questions and publish one set of answer every week.

The first mail I send out, I did not got any answer for a few days. I was not sure if it was a good idea or not, so I send the questions out to a few more people. Then I thought it is almost holiday. I will be gone for a few weeks, and I wants to be sure I can schedule answers while I am gone. (And I don’t want to take the risk that I don’t get any answers for the rest of the holiday period.) So I started to send out my questions to some more people.

When people replied, I started looking at the last answer (who should I ask next) and send out questions to these people. When people told me, I need some time to think about these people I asked hem, could you already give me new name(s).

I published the first set of answers from Lisa Crispin 10 days before my holiday. During my holiday I started to get lots and lots of answers. I needed a tool to keep track of who I invited and who accepted. I created a spreadsheet to write down all the names of people I invited. When I started to record them, I quickly realized I had already invited lots of people.

By the time my holiday was over, I had 76 people invited, 52 people had said yes (2 said no) and + 30 had written an answer. I started to add a publication date to my spreadsheet.

Somewhere along the way I had decided that I would schedule answers “in a first answer, first published” order. I communicated that to the next people I invited. (I did not do that to the first people I invited.)

When I received a new set of answers, I read the answers (I just love what people are doing with the questions.) Then I thank the person for his time (as I know that answering these questions takes a lot of time for most people.) And I tell them when their answers will be scheduled. More and more I started to feel guilty, as I had to tell people in July that they would be published in October, November etc…

Last week I received an answer from a person I admire a lot. I invited her before my holiday. I had told that person it was ok to answer after my holiday as I already had answers for the next weeks. I forgot to tell her about my “first come first serve policy”. By the time she answered, I had people scheduled until February 2012. I told her, the probably publication date. She was mad. Really mad. She had spend part of her holidays writing the answers, rewriting it a few times. The result was one of the most touching answers I received, very personal. She was mad because she found my release schedule ridiculous for an agile coach. She was right.

Lets look at this project:

  • I had a weekly release schedule.
  • A large project backlog of people (76)
  • A velocity of one

I realized I treated my project backlog all the same way: from the moment a name got added to my backlog I started to work on it: that is I send an e-mail asking that person to start working on it. In my defense I had an almost unlimited team for working on the backlog (one person a story feels unlimited for me.)

Start to see some links with agile projects? Wait it get’s better.

Not only did I have an unlimited team, they also started to deliver very fast. (That’s is why I now have 39 answers.)

I said I had a velocity of one, but I have 39 answers in a couple of weeks, shouldn’t my velocity be 39/nr of weeks? Aha great question mr Watson. To answer this question we have to look at my definition of done. When is a story done? It’s done when it is delivered to the customer. When is it delivered to my customer. Well the customers of this blog are my readers, yes I ‘m talking about you. The stories are delivered when they are published on my blog.  Aha that shows a a glitch in my explanation. I don’t have an unlimited team. I actually have a bottleneck. Remember TOC, there always is a bottleneck. Find it. And eliminate… Oh wait I am the bottleneck.

I’m publishing only once a week. That is a choice I made. Publishing more would be lot of work for me. Mmm when I coach teams I tell them, when it’s hard do it more often. Ok maybe I should publish more often. So I asked my agile friends on twitter (and in person)

Turns out that my customers liked my publishing limit and actually asked me to keep it.

Ok. That is a dead end. What else can I do to solve this problem?

Let’s see what is the problem again? The time between the receiving of the answers and the publication is too big.

Let’s have a visual look at the work:

Todo Asked Said yes Answered Published Total
46 24 13 30 9 117

I wrote this table as in Kanban. Every column represents the Work In Progress.

(Except that I added the total at the end)

Aha Visual Management helps again. Clearly the biggest block is in publishing.(Tell me something I did not know.) I already know that publishing faster is not an option.

Ok so now you are doing Kanban, so what would David Anderson do? He would limit the work in progress.

I can’t stop people from saying yes.

I can’t stop people from being added to the TODO list (really I can’t because it is part of how the answer that I expect people to give.)

The only place where I can limit the work in progress is Stop asking people to answer questions. (For clarity I did not write: ask people to stop answering questions.)

As you can see I have already 46 more stories ready on my backlog (they are ready when I have a name and an e-mail adres.)

For all the people that have answered the questions, I’m sorry the time between your answers and my publication is so long. This was in no way my intention to disrespect the work you did to answer the questions.

If I already asked you, and you haven’t answered, what should you do?

Today (2011/08/18) I have a publishing schedule until 2012/04/10. This means I ‘m not urgently waiting on your answers.

You can answer at your own pace, write the answers when you have time.(I do keep my scheduling based on first come first served.)

A big thank you for the person being mad at me at pushing me to blog about it.

(You know who you are)


16 Responses to “The story of who is: how success can lead to stock and waste….”

  1. Marcin says:

    Yves, thank you for the story. You touch on a very important point, something we’re all susceptible to, that we can sometimes miss to apply the obvious things we know and teach others to ourselves.

    The story also reminds me of the beer game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer_distribution_game) – the effect of delay in the system.

  2. yhanoulle says:

    Thank you Marcin.
    The other side is also true, it’s good not to optimize too early.

    The fact that I did not have a list of people I invited at the start, I had no visibility about the nr of people. When I started to list them I quickly realized I would pass 30 people. Then I knew I was in trouble. I just did not realize how big the trouble was. 😉
    Its also a nice example of how people can listen to an angry person and hear the message. (Although it’s not easy) If I would not have known this person personally and if I would not have respect her like I do, I would probably have flipped the bozo bit on her. Now I listened.

  3. Carlo Beschi says:

    Hi Yves,
    thanks for sharing this.

    Sure, letting someone you care and respect mad is a thing important, to consider and to avoid.

    At a “system level”, the issue is there, as you say: too much WIP, which is waste, and leads to a very very long lead time.

    I’d work on publishing more. (The “published” number is small because there are units which are ready but paused, unpublished.)

    Ideas: what about making a separate “who-is” site? (you can set up and populate one with wordpress or any other blog engine in a few hours, no cost and limited effort)

    Although your customers (blog readers) don’t seem to have time to read more than one “who-is” post per week I’m not 100% sure the value you’ll deliver to them will descrease that much if let’s say 20 who-is are posted in a batch on a separate micro-site (this is an assumption, I’m open to discussion on this 😉

    Any case, the initial weekly schedule was chosen for “internal resources” optimization/availability, and not for actual customer demand.

    While possible not an issue for your customers, your long lead time is a potential issue for your suppliers/co-workers (I mean, those engaged in the game. Especially those who answered the questions). The publishing delay subracts them visibility of the whole product cycle / end.

    If you’d considered the idea of a separate who-is microsite, you could also engage someone else in reviewing / publishing content, this eliminating another bottleneck.
    Still, as per TOC thery, I’d go with removing the publishing limit, and see what happens then 😉


  4. yhanoulle says:

    @Carlo: I have asked multiple people that read the posts and all said that too much publishing would remove their reading interest. So you are right the original limit was publishing, the current one is the customer.
    What would a micro-site add that this site does not have?

  5. Chris Matts says:


    The “Who Is” series is one of the must read events of my week. I’m one of the once a week types. Like champagne, if I have too much it loses its specialness.

    It is worth taking another perspective on this issue.

    One of the most interesting aspect of this series is the fresh and unique way that people respond to your great questions. Each person addresses the questions in their own unique style. Some talk about business, others talk about family, music or something else.

    I submitted my answers before I had read too many of the other “Who Is”. Subsequently I have found it really hard not to change my response based on the other replies that I have written. They are better than mine and I considered changing mine.

    I think there is a real danger that people who are asked to respond will read what other people have done and pick the best bits as inspiration for their own reply. Before long, a style emerges and the freshness and creativity disappear. We end up with a “tick box” response. Being unaware of what others have written and what the standard is forces us to be honest and to provide an answer which is truer to ourselves.

    Sometimes feedback destroys creativity. Imagine how much paler the world would be if Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh or Piet Mondrian had been successful early on, and churned out their early works rather than follow their own muse… We would not have sunflowers or tahitian beauties. Then again, we would have been spared the Mondrian Mugs…. Hmmm.

    Your friend who gave you the feedback was really commenting about the operational aspects. In retrospect they may thank you from a creative perspective because you encouraged them to get a response in before they were influenced by what others had written.

    Keep up the excellent work.

    On a personal note, I cannot get over how much effort you put in to create all of those links. Thank you once again.


  6. yhanoulle says:

    Thanks Chris.

    I did not think about the danger that people would answer based on other answers.
    Just like you I love the diversity of the answers (I did on purpose select a lot of diverse people to start with.)

    I don’t think that the problem of my friend was purely about the operational part. Her answers were very personal, and could be time limited. (Basically, some of her answers could no longer be valid in a few months.)
    I personally loved that, because it shows that she truely lives in the moment and she had very deep answers.
    and I can see that when this is published after the facts that it has little value.


  7. Chris Matts says:


    For a while we have been referring to the “Backlog” as a portfolio of options. In this case, your backlog of stories is genuinely a portfolio of options. The value of the stories drops to zero after a time. They expire!

    I would say bump them up the queue. It is unlikely anyone would mind if one person jumps the queue for a justifiable reason.

    In fact, no one but you would know. Time to uninstall the morality software. 😉


  8. yhanoulle says:

    aha, you really use every opinion to promote Real Options 😉

    Yes you are right they expire.

    It’s not true that nobody knows. I tell everyone when their story will be published. (To not create false expectations.)
    Lucily I did , that’s why I found out about these expectations.

    You have a point about the morality software. I want to think about that.

    Next to that it is also a long term thing, if people know that complaining helps them to get published a head of time I will receive more complaints;Some will be legitimet (like this one) others not.
    Just reading them will be very costly in time. Time I rather spend in looking for more creative links 😉
    I’m not sure yet if this is my excuse, or a real reason. Like I said I need to think about that.


  9. yhanoulle says:

    I have solved this issue by publishing the book “Who is agile”

    Where I add a few people every week, instead of just one person a week.

    Yes real agile book: you get a mail when I update it and you can download the new version

  10. yhanoulle says:

    And we will remove this problem even further by creating local versions of the book, one per country.