What Agile Teams Learn from Toyota about Definition of Ready

What Agile Teams Learn from Toyota

Photo: Toyota Manufacturing UK – Assembly, Flikr

Getting stories to “ready” is crazily important for Agile teams. My recent field trip to Toyota made me think more broadly about what ready means.

By “ready” I’m referring to having stories articulated ahead of a sprint commencing. I usually advise software teams to include the following in their “Definition of Ready” (their checklist of what needs to be done before a story can be commenced):

  • Clear story statement
  • Articulated acceptance criteria
  • Reference to a process map (if required)
  • Wireframe (if required)
  • The team understands the story
  • It has the Product Owner thumbs up

The Toyota equivalent of ready is a self-driving trolley that arrives at the operator’s station just in time to supply, for example, the wheels for the next vehicle on the assembly line. The passage of self-driving trolleys around the factory floor, playing individual music to alert the operator of approach, is in and of itself ridiculously impressive.

It is Toyota’s lean approach to managing the whole supply chain though, with offsite manufacturers producing, packaging and dispatching the various wheels in the correct order, that takes ready to a whole other level.

What can Agile teams learn from this?

Remember that you are part of a system – seek to include your stakeholders in getting to ready

Ask yourself, who in Legal, Product, Marketing, Learning or Architecture needs to understand, or be involved in defining the story before it is considered ready?

Value your suppliers – they are critical to your system

Toyota understands that their success depend on their suppliers. They provide clarity of expectations.

Influence your ecosystem – educate as required

Do all your stakeholders or suppliers understand their role in Agile product development? If not, find a way to explain it to them and support them as they come up to speed.

Listen to your Developers – they understand ready better than anyone.

At Toyota, if wheels don’t arrive at the right moment, fitting them cannot be completed within the takt time. Our takt time is a sprint. We should have no lesser sense of urgency than Toyota’s 90 second takt time. Ask Developers ahead of a sprint, “Do you have everything you need to complete this story?”, and listen to their response.

Make your team’s model “ready set flow”

Emphasise the connection between ready and overall sprint flow. Encourage Product Owners and Business Analysts to make the workflow of getting stories to ready visible on an Agile wall. Get them talking about these efforts at standup, so everyone in the team feels empowered to flag obstacles to ready.

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