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Lack of Work Alignment Can Cost Millions

To have a better understanding of orphaned work and prevent it from costing you Millions of dollars of delivery capacity, visualize the problem/opportunity.  You might find orphans before is too late, by creating an executive dashboard with Jira Align and Tableau or Power BI.

Screen Shot 2021-01-06 at 12.34.35 PM.png

This orphaned feature dashboard (pictured above) identifies feature objects that lack parent epic objects. Every orphaned object contains a risk cost. The further an orphaned object progresses along a value stream, the more unrecoverable cost is realized. Other than top-level objects, like investment themes, all (child) objects should have parents. Ensuring all work has a lineage helps ensure full accounting of work in the system of delivery and a complete connection between strategy and execution.

Let’s say that you know the overall delivery capacity of your portfolio and you make a point to balance it with demand. But when you see what your portfolio delivered last quarter, you come up short… way short. When you need to meet the commitments you made to your shareholders, should you hire more people or change the forecasted dates? 

Before you decide, in order to better understand overall demand and to balance the system, consider something else. It could be that your delivery teams are working really hard and getting a lot done. They may be working on priorities you didn’t commit to and there is a disconnect between strategy and execution.

These disconnected and misaligned priorities are also known as orphans.

Orphans identify a lack of teamwork alignment, which include child stories without a parent feature on the backlog. Similarly, child features may not have a parent epic on the roadmap. How does this happen? Teams generally get direction from a prioritized backlog that is aligned to a roadmap. Sometimes, teams choose to work on things identified as short-term priorities. Though I do believe in local autonomy, I believe that autonomy should apply to how to create a solution or solve a problem. It should not include changing priorities defined by product owners, managers, or leaders. Every hour spent on orphaned work is one less hour that can be spent on priorities detailed in the backlog and on the roadmap.


Leadership should define outcome-based objectives. Epics should be defined to make measurable progress against those objectives. Those parent epics should be decomposed into child features. Lastly, those features become parents of child stories. By maintaining a lineage, you can ensure alignment to objectives and goals. 



Jimmy Seddon Community Leader Jan 15, 2021

This is some really good insight!  Thanks for sharing @Derek Huether!

Like Derek Huether likes this

@Derek Huether 

Thank you for that article, it's daily problem to me :) 

How about with situation if orphan story-feature is a new innovation thing?  

I am asking because in my last company one employee made a nice feature. And as result company grew to fast and published a patent.

Like Derek Huether likes this

@Gonchik Tsymzhitov I believe if a company wants to both survive and prosper in this ever-changing world, they must innovate. As part of their investment portfolio, organizational leadership should create space (reserve budget and time) for teams to innovate. At Atlassian, we call it "ShipIt". Some of our coolest new features come from ShipIts.  Just as I see companies reserve capacity to run the business, keep the lights on, or do new product development, innovation is no different.

The high level objective in the portfolio could be titled something like Moonshots. The patent you noted could be either a key result or a byproduct. Regardless, protect that time on a team level and celebrate it. Just make sure it's linked to Moonshots, so leadership knows they are running enough experiments and giving teams enough space to be creative.

Thanks so much for posting this!  I'm interested in any market research in this area and would appreciate any feedback.  For example, how do you see the cost of the orphans being articulated if no action is taken?  Being able to realistically articulate the cost of this type of problem is essential!

- John

Like Derek Huether likes this


You should be able to derive a financial cost (impact), given your organizational context. Identify work that was recently completed or in process, but not a priority or not aligned to a priority. 

Unfortunately, the cost impact happens twice. First, how much time and resources were spent from contributing teams on orphaned work? Second, what prioritized work didn't or isn't getting done as a result? The first cost should be pretty easy to calculate, given the cost of teams and time spent on the efforts.  The prioritized value not delivered in that same period could be much harder to calculate, beyond the cost of delay involved.


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