How to Turn Around a Stalled Development Process

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Attributed to Winston Churchill

An AI-generated painting in traditional Japanese style of porters carrying heavy loads.
Japanese porters. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

When a development process slows to a crawl, your first instinct may be to ramp up the pressure – urge developers to work harder, put in longer hours, or even take shortcuts.

However, this will likely backfire, leading to burnout, quality issues, and disappointing returns.

When this happens, it’s important not to lose sight of the opportunity. When things are at rock-bottom and it’s clear that current methods aren’t working, people might be more open to trying something new. Plus, the risk involved is minimal - after all, things can hardly get worse than they already are.

So, how do you capitalise on this opportunity?

By getting rid of what’s slowing you down. Here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Identify the one thing that needs immediate attention. Pause all other ongoing work and shift the focus to this task. This tactic will temporarily leave some team members idle, but as we’ve discussed before, the key to moving faster lies in doing less.

Step 2: Clearly define the task and make sure to include examples. Explain exactly how this task will bring value to the organisation, allowing the development team to scope down or propose alternative solutions as they go.

Step 3: Find two people, for instance a designer and a developer, who are ready and willing to take on this task. Everyone else, irrespective of their role or rank, adopts a supporting role, staying on standby until their assistance is needed.

Step 4: Remove all organisational barriers. Any line of communication should be direct, also across departments, without managers getting in between.

Step 5: Resist talking about time estimates for the request. Instead, establish its Cost of Delay and use that to agree on a timeframe that the team is comfortable with and a budget that the organisation is willing to risk. If needed, let the team spend a few hours on a “spike”, a short feasibility study.

Step 6: Cancel all routine meetings like daily scrums, product refinement meetings, status report meetings, and sprint reviews. Eliminate administrative overhead like velocity measurements and rules like mandatory office presence. Trust the team to determine which meetings (if any) are needed, and let them focus on the task at hand.

This approach may seem daunting, but adopting even one of these steps can lead to significant improvements. It’s worth making the proposal.

As a bonus, starting with a blank slate gives you an opportunity to assess the value of old practices. Should you choose to reinstate any one of them, you can do so one by one, ask “why are we doing this again?”, and measure the outcomes. This will help identify beneficial practices from the ones that are holding you back.

Never waste a good crisis. Seize it as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Stay informed of new posts?

Sign up below and you will receive a weekly digest of new posts.

If you change your mind, you can unsubscribe at any time. You will not be spammed, and we will keep your email address private.

Article index