June 10, 2013

Spike Solutions

I like James Shore's explanation of Spike Solutions. His focus seems to be on very short impromptu experiments (on the order of minutes). One thing about spikes that could use some more words are larger spikes. Sometimes I need to figure something out that may take more than a day. An example might be to experiment with one particular API for some new service I need to consume.

I recommend each team come to agreement on what's an acceptable maximum size for a spike. I recommend a day, or maybe two. If it will take more time than that, split it, just like you would for a story. Spikes need to have a clear acceptance criteria, a very specific question to answer. When the time-box is over, share the results with the team.

Often, such larger spikes are related to a user story and typically must be resolved before the story can be estimated. But for the spikes themselves, I recommend NOT estimating them. We want velocity to represent value added stories -- we want to measure the rate at which we add value. Either way, when using your velocity, when making release plans, you must understand your system and take into consideration when and how you come up with spikes and when you solve them. Do you find them late? Do you know about them but implement them late? If so, that represents unknown schedule risk.

I used to say that a consistent stream of day-sized spikes is good, but when I said that I would often forget to explain my context and assumptions. Having a continuous stream of new spikes that you solve almost as you create them makes sense if you are also doing continuous planning (without batching into large releases or without release commitments). Solving small spikes regularly keeps this activity from making velocity unstable.

Conversely, if you batch requirements into releases greater than, say, a couple months and if your organization is making release commitments, then in that case spikes represent risk in your backlog. Might want to knock out all spikes for the release right off the bat.


Wow, this is just my first post this year. I've been very busy with my LeadingAgile clients. It's time to get back to my writing!