An “intake process” refers to having a well-defined method by which work is picked up by development. It is the bridge between the group of business stakeholders defining what is to be worked on and the development group that will build it. There are two parts to the intake process. The first is the discovery intake process where stakeholders decide what to work on. Then there is the development intake process where the development organization pulls from the work defined in the discovery intake process. The product backlog is the end and beginning point of these two intake processes respectively and acts as the bridge between discovery and development.
The Impact of a Good Intake Process
Creating an intake process is likely the most impactful step that an organization can take.
Impact on Multi-tasking
Pull is part of an intake process. When people work on too many things, it lowers their productivity.
- It results in multi-tasking.
- It creates extra work.
- It tends to burn people out.
A pull system addresses this by allowing people to start work when they are ready.
Impact on Business Stakeholders
A good intake process limits the amount of work getting to development to be the maximum they can handle efficiently. It makes this visible to business stakeholders – a good reality check. It helps them focus on their area of responsibility: Deciding what and how much to feed to development in order to get value realized sooner.
This is why using MBIs, MVPs and MVRs are so important at the intake process. All items here must be as small as possible while still providing value to the organization when completed. Defining these is the responsibility of business stakeholders.
Impact on Development
Having a well-defined and effective intake process helps development regardless of what approach they are using. Avoiding overloading teams with work not only significantly lowers the turbulence and chaos that otherwise results, but it also lessens the challenge of coordinating the teams. And, if MBIs, MVPs and MVRs are used, the pieces coming in are smaller and therefore easier to manage.
Controlling the intake process is essential. Even if business stakeholders don’t do their job as well as they should, development can put in a gating factor when it is needed. It’s worth noting how all effective approaches attend to this:
- Scrum: Pull a sprint’s worth of work from the product backlog and don’t let any other work in.
- SAFe®: Pull a program increment’s worth of work from the product backlog.
- Kanban: Use a flow model and pull work only as able to work on it.
Impact on the PMO
The PMO has an important role in ensuring the proper capacity is allocated to the most important work in an effective way. They can greatly contribute to the management of the intake process. Their job is considerably eased when business stakeholders and technology do their jobs – so much to the point that the PMO’s role may be greatly lessened.
Impact on Marketing and Supporting Teams
Getting value realized takes more than just getting it out the door. An effective intake process will consider all aspects of the work to be completed. Whatever is needed beyond deployment must be included in the items being managed at intake. This is why MBIs include all aspects of value realization, not just development and deployment.
Managing Different Types of Work
Intake processes often have to deal with different types of work where each type will be of significantly different sizes. This is a common challenge when we have big projects interspersed with little ones.
The intake process helps by encouraging small increments. From a work in process (WIP) point of view, it is better to start and finish items instead of running several at a time.
The cost-of-delay of a big increment is accounted for in WSJF, but the impact of delays to big and small stories is not. It is not practical to interrupt or delay big increments; however, if we slice up big increments into smaller, validate-able chunks, we can interrupt them in an intelligent manner as needed by smaller pieces. We’d like to avoid this completely, of course, but often can’t.
For more information, see Dynamic Feature Teams.
The Keys for an Effective Intake Process
Not all intake process are effective. Important factors include:
- All work either comes through the intake process or there is a well-defined method for circumventing it (such as allocating a certain amount of capacity for maintenance).
- Work in the intake process is sequenced so when it is pulled, people downstream can see what they need to handle conflicting requests (they’ll look at the sequence in the intake process).
- There is an organization-wide agreement on using the intake process. The intake process is the focal point of aligning the organization and the guardrails system of agreements. For more information, see Collaboration and Alignment.
Starting at the start of the value stream is the best place to begin an improvement initiative. However, that is often not possible due to a lack of business stakeholder engagement. When this is the case, the intake process is almost always a close second choice and can always be done. It provides insights to business stakeholders as to why they have to focus on what initiatives and business increments are going to provide the most value. It can be used as a way to explain to them why attending to it lowers risk, speeds delivery, and helps ensure value is created. At the same time it protects technology from being overloaded.
Good intake processes can be used to coach business stakeholders on why managing work in process is important as well as why a focus on delivering value sooner can help technology.