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I am an Agile Coach for a bunch of Business Intelligence Engineers and Data Scientists.

There is generally speaking 2 different work item types which they undertake:

  1. User facing reports and dashboards e.g. Business Objects, Looker
  2. Platform related enablement e.g. Airflow data pipelines, AWS configuration, Snowflake and S3 work

I have tried everything but I have not managed to get the team to work in vertical slices - they just say that its impossible and so they essentially work in horizontal slices with each team member working from his/her own backlog of technical tasks e.g.

One developer will constantly work on new data pipelines and maintain existing data pipelines.

One developer will only do Looker or BO.

One developer will do exclusively Snowflake related activities etc.

The work does marry up eventually but there is so little user facing value that the business is starting to get unhappy.

There are a few more variables which make my problem more complex. We don't have Product Management skills within the team - we do have a PO but he is a business person with no real agile IT experience.

Also, the ask of the team is also to embed the skills of creating dashboards and reports within the business users e.g. self-serve.

My question is simple - how do I get my team to work in agile way and slice things vertically.

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From the looks of it, you currently don't have a team. You have a group of developers presumably working in the same office. To turn them into a team, you need to get them to take collective ownership of the unsliced work-items that provide value to the business.

A few suggestions in that direction are

  • Hold a retrospective with all team members about how they can collectively turn around the perception of the business that they aren't delivering anything. Let them come up with ideas themselves and try the most promising ones (or the ones that get the most support) for some time.

  • Don't allow the team to horizontally slice a work-item. If no vertical slice can be agreed upon, then assume that that is the smallest that the work-item can become.
    At the same time, impose a WIP limit on the work-items. If a team member wants to start on a new work-item that would exceed the WIP limit, tell them to assist in completing an already in-progress work-item, even if that work-item has no work left in their area of expertise. This will help in getting work-items done faster and it also cross-trains the team.
    You can allow the team to create (horizontally-sliced) sub-tasks under a work-item to know in which technical areas work needs to be done, but the completion of a sub-task would have no meaning for any metrics that you track. They can, however, help the team to see where/how multiple people can collaborate on the same work-item.

  • Sorry I am struggling to understand your second point. Would you mind rephrasing. Are you saying I should track the work items or the horizontal slice which comprises the work items? – user32613 Jul 24 at 16:52
  • @user32613: Rephrased the point. You should track the wok-items (and get those to completion as fast as possible), but allow technical tasks to make it visible how the team members can work together on a work-item. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 25 at 7:13
  • Thanks for reply. Will do first point definitely. Second point is the problem. I don't have authority as an Agile Coach to force them to do vertical slices. The work items are horizontal technical tasks though (as small as they can get them). They claim to be stories but they are actually just technical tasks. I am imposing WIP limits on these though. – user32613 Jul 25 at 8:24
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    @user32613: If you don't have the authority, try to get someone on your side who does have the authority to prevent "incorrect" slicing. The PO might be a good candidate, as they can insist that the stories have a (for them) recognizable business value. The fact that he is non-technical might actually help in that. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 25 at 8:31

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