Using Iteration Offsets in Agile Development

on Mar 9, 09 • by Todd Landry • with No Comments

I thought for today’s topic I would delve into something that many organizations have to confront when moving to Agile that is, how to structure their iterations. Many organizations will find that iterations work better if development, testing, and documentation are all done within the same iteration period. Other...

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I thought for today’s topic I would delve into something that many organizations have to confront when moving to Agile that is, how to structure their iterations. Many organizations will find that iterations work better if development, testing, and documentation are all done within the same iteration period. Other organizations prefer to offset the testing and/or documentation ½ or a full iteration period after the development is complete. Having lived through both, I thought it might be useful to briefly list the good, and not so good of iteration offsetting.

First the good:

* Testing and documentation are not given features that have been completed at 5 pm on the last day of an iteration, and then expected to have their work done by the following Monday.
* Many dev features are totally complete prior to documentation or testing, so the doc and test teams can start their iteration running, rather than crawling.
* The documentation team is provided with some insight as to the “big picture” of a feature (and not just a standalone story in an iteration) and can plan their documentation for those features with that information in mind. This could help reduce rework on their part.

Now the not so good:

* Development can be drawn back into a previous iteration for bug fixes.
* If demo’ing iterations is a standard part of your process, it could contain a number of bugs since it hasn’t been through any formal testing yet.
* Communication is fragmented…some teams talking about Iteration x, some about Iteration x-1.
* Possible confusion, and more difficult to manage since there are multiple iterations on the go.

Is this list complete? Probably not…but hopefully it will give you something to think about if you’re either starting Agile development, or are struggling with your current implementation. For many projects, the negatives outweigh the positives on this list. As a Product Manager, I’ve seen that many situations where offsets as described above just don’t work. If that’s the case for you, then one possible approach that I’ve seen work is to implement a code freeze 3 days prior to the end of an iteration, and the developers then become part of the testing team.

My personal preference having worked in both scenarios, is to have dev, test, and documentation all occur within the same iteration. Now, my reason is somewhat selfish…when an iteration finishes, I want to show what we’ve done with some level of comfort of the quality and then be able to close the book on that iteration at that point. If that is the approach you prefer, here is a good blog about how to set up such an iteration. Of course, as with most things Agile, there’s never a “right” answer; it’s about finding the right iteration methodology that works for your team’s culture and project goals.

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