Managing Cross-Team Dependencies with a Dependency Board

DependencyBoardPlease welcome new guest blogger, Terry Winslow, as she explains the Dependency Board in use at Valpak.  Terry is an Agile Project Leader at Valpak.  This means she wears many hats as ScrumMaster, Kanban Lead, and Agile Project Manager.

One of the biggest challenges in agile is managing cross-team dependencies.   Cross-team dependencies exist when two or more teams need each other to deliver an end-to-end increment of working software.  Over Valpak’s 4+ years of agile development we have learned that cross-team dependencies are a way of life.  But how do you manage these dependencies?  There is no magic one-size-fits-all answer.  Like many things in agile, management of cross-team dependencies has evolved over time.

When Valpak started our agile journey we had the daily Scrum of Scrum standup.  The Product Owner and ScrumMaster of each agile team would meet daily and discuss cross-team dependencies.  At that time, our code base was so interrelated that code changes made by one team would affect other teams.  These daily standups were needed to coordinate code changes and releases.  As our code base became more decoupled these Scrum of Scrum standups were held twice a week.

Eventually, we discontinued the Scrum of Scrums all together.  The work of managing cross-team dependencies fell on the ScrumMasters to coordinate between the Scrum teams.  The ScrumMasters coordinate cross-team dependencies with other teams while grooming stories for upcoming sprints.  While the ScrumMasters do a great job, we wanted a way to visually see the dependencies.  That is where the dependency board was born.

The left side of the board has a row for each team along with a column to place user stories that have dependencies for the current sprint.  Along the top are columns for groups that are required to help complete stories.  These groups could be other Scrum teams, database administrators, architects, or subject matter experts.

Each sprint, the ScrumMasters display the user stories that have dependencies on the left side of the board and indicate which people are needed from other Scrum teams using the columns.  A dependency meeting is scheduled after all Scrum planning meetings are completed.  The ScrumMaster for each Scrum team reviews the user stories and the team members needed to complete the story.  All ScrumMasters agree that the needed team members have either 1) a corresponding user story on the other teams Scrum board or 2) have included the needed work in support time.  If there are any discrepancies, the two ScrumMasters work it out with their teams and Product Owners before the end of the day.  This could include pushing a story out a sprint until the needed team members are available.

The dependency board is a great way to visualize cross-team dependencies.  It allows teams to commit to working together to complete working software.  By setting a scheduled meeting to review the dependency board, we make sure that all teams are aware of any cross-team dependencies and we don’t have any cross-team dependency surprises later on in the sprint.

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About Stephanie Davis

Stephanie is Executive Director - Enterprise Agility Office at Catalina, driving lift and loyalty for the world's leading CPG brands and retailers.  Most recently, Stephanie was Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak. She was with Valpak for 13 years, most of which were focused on leading their agile transformation to what became a world renowned success story published in case studies and demonstrated to over 50 different companies through the years via agile tours.  Prior to Valpak, Stephanie held past positions in the project management domain with AT&T and IBM. Stephanie's academic credentials include a BS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and an MBA in International Business from the University of Bristol in England. She also maintains the Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Stephanie is big on tech community involvement!  Most recently, she served as an elected board member to the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization with global membership, committed to advancing agile development values, principles, and practices. In addition, she serves her local community as an organizer for Tampa Bay Agile, the largest and most active tech Meetup in the area, and the annual Agile Open Florida event. In 2016, Stephanie was awarded Tampa Bay Tech’s Technology Leader of the Year and the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year (Tech) and Emerging Technology Leader of the Year. View all posts by Stephanie Davis

One response to “Managing Cross-Team Dependencies with a Dependency Board

  • Prabhakar

    Is there any digital boards available in market. We are also trying to use these kind of boards, but the teams are geo-graphically distributed, so it will be nice if there are any tools that offer this solution.

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