Apple trees

While working with my teams, I was looking for a simple solution visualising the amount of work. My idea was to move out of the traditional software tools compiling a never-ending list of requirements to a fun a collaborative approach to improve the working model.

Apple tree

This tree is representing the current engagement of a single team that you might find in a product  or sprint backlog if you are using agile techniques.

In teamwork, you generally find three types of work:

  • The work that produces value is called the fruits. Fruits are the expected outcome of planting: Turnover, benefits, etc.
  • The work that is used to produce value is called the roots (and branches). “Roots” are the feed channels for the existence and growth of fruits.
  • And those producing none of them, the transactional work or “business-as-usual”. Anything that is neither “fruit” nor “roots” is called Business-as-usual (BAU). The BAU is time-consuming and can not be eliminated. But it can be controlled by treatment.

From a methodological perspective:

  • Lean explains that you have to optimize the flow, i.e. reducing the BAU, optimize the « roots » so that each harvest produce the same « fruits ».
  • Agile is more pragmatic. We consider that BAU cannot be eliminated but should be under control.
  • Scrum explain that you have to focus on business value, i.e. increasing fruits harvesting.
  • Agile also explains that both development and production proceed at a sustainable pace.

The Appletree is a tool for the team, a coaching tool. It allows to visualize the expected outcomes and what needs to complete to ensure that goal. With the organizations I supported, we worked once a month during the retrospective:

  • To identify the value streams
  • To highlight the non-functional requirements that need to be completed
  • To improve our organization

One of the teams, I worked with improved the board by changing the colours of the apples: red apples for “sweet” outcomes, green apples for “sour” or not fun work.

 The apple tree works effectively as a metaphor. After a while, all teams filled their trees with the work in progress. The apple trees posters have been pined on the walls of the corridor, allowing everyone to see the work in progress.

The similarity with Kanban techniques is on purpose. On the opposite of a traditional Kanban  board, the apple trees allowed to prioritize work bundles.

One of my teams improved the way of using it by identifying cross-over and emerging activities. During one session, the group decided to split into two teams during one sprint because they needed to fix several things first. This outcome was unexpected, but it was wholly aligned with the necessity of self-organization.

Once a month, the whole crowd (team of teams or higher-level system) is gathering for harvesting. Harvesting is nothing more than reviewing done work together.

From a coaching perspective, the apple metaphor is a great help to collect micro-narratives and metaphors without using appearing rigid vocabulary.

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