The Dependency Wall

In an ideal system, every team would be self-sufficient, without any dependencies on other teams or decision-makers. Are there really any organisations that work like this? Everywhere I have observed or worked has had to deal with some kind of dependencies, however infrequently.

In the world of Gantt charts, controlling dependencies can be a full-time cottage industry. In the world of agile teams (or squads if you prefer that parlance) how can we handle the links that emerge between teams?

One approach that I’ve explored at Sky Betting and Gaming, with Richard Drinkwater, is building a dependency map – as a physical board on the wall. It’s basically a matrix of teams:

The teams on the horizontal axis depend on the teams on the vertical axis for something. The blocked out diagonal line reflects the fact that it doesn’t make sense to depend on your own team.

Individual post-it notes describe the dependency.

Once a week, representatives from each team on the dependency board get together for a 15 minute stand-up in front of the wall, to review, update and escalate against the dependencies they have created.

We added classes of service to this – based on the urgency of the work. The colour of the post-it note on the dependency wall had a special meaning:

Every squad is responsible for adding new dependencies to the wall – and for briefing the stand-up on any they have added. Similarly, requesting squads are responsible for changing the colour (urgency) of the dependencies they have created.

In the stand-up we focus on enumerating the red (urgent) dependencies first, adding a new dot to each during the stand-up, to indicate how long these have been issues for. We would also explore the amber ones but would not talk about the longer range post-it notes unless someone specifically wanted to.

The great thing about this tool is that it makes dependencies very visible, and can give us insights into where emerging bottlenecks and systemic issues are appearing – if we see a squad with lots of squads depending on it then perhaps the organisational design isn’t optimised for the work to be done in the organisation?


Here’s the wall in action..

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