Project Management

What’s Taking So Long? Little’s Law Holds the Answer

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman, known as the "Pragmatic Manager," offers frank advice for your tough problems. She helps leaders and teams learn to see simple and reasonable things that might work. Equipped with that knowledge, they can decide how to adapt their product development. Her recent books are the "Modern Management Made Easy" series and "Create Your Successful Agile Project."

Some agile teams struggle with way too much work. The more work they have, the slower they finish the work. The slower they finish, the more pressure they feel.

While teams might realize they’re slower than normal, they might not realize they can measure this slowness with Little’s Law. Once they measure, they can create several options to speed their work and reduce the pressure.

Little’s Law Explains Why Teams Are “Too Slow”
Little’s Law says that the more work you have in progress, the slower all the work gets. Here’s the actual definition:

Average Cycle Time = Average Work in Progress/Average Throughput

(Notice these are averages, which means this equation is a definition, not a forecast. We can use Little’s Law to explain the relationships between each of these terms.)

Little’s Law says that the more work the team has in progress, the less the team releases. And the less the team releases, the more time (cycle time) the team spends on each item. That longer cycle time contributes the to the age of each item.

You might have seen Little’s Law in action: the seven-person team starts five stories. Then, when a developer wants code review or a tester wants test review, they have to wait for someone to become available. Since those two people started their own stories, those two stories wait.

But …

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