In “How to prioritise when everything is a priority”, I talked about risks:

Risks: areas where there is uncertainty, and that could trip you up if they are looked at too late. Picking these up sooner gets them out of the way and helps increase confidence in completing the remainder of the stories.

It’s normal for a new team to feel that there is uncertainty everywhere. We don’t know what we don’t know. Whether the team is new, what’s being built is new, or both – it can be difficult to get started.

Spikes are one way for a team to build confidence.

A spike is a research task. It should have a goal, a timebox, and an output. The goal could be as simple as understanding how something works. It might include a prototype. The output might be a recommended approach (or one to avoid), documentation, or an estimate.

The timebox is important to avoid investigations going on for a long time. If the spike is taking too long, the team can evaluate at the end of the timebox – there might be a better approach.

By allowing the team to spend time researching areas of uncertainty rather than diving right in, you can limit the types of stories that appear to be perpetually “in progress”.

Using a spike doesn’t mean stories will be done faster. But it can mean greater clarity in how a story will be developed, and it also helps to highlight stories that are too ambitious and need to be broken down or de-scoped.

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash