The confusion around Stretch Objectives

The name Stretch Objectives is a misnomer. Despite disclaimers and upfront explanation, several learners take the literal meaning of Stretch and assume Stretch Objectives are the ones that will be done "if time permits."

Stretch Objectives are the ones that are planned to be done in a Program Increment (PI), but the team cannot commit to its completion.

Why cannot the team commit to these objectives?

There can be any or a combination of two or more of these reasons. Some of these are anti-patterns.

  • The objective involves new technology that needs to be explored. This exploration is time-boxed. The objectives can be met only if the exploration is successful, so it makes sense not to commit to the objective.
  • It cannot be estimated accurately, so it's a time-boxed activity. If it does not finish in the time allocated to it, the objective will not be met.
  • The team has overcommitted in the past and are experimenting with the teams on how much they can commit during the PI Planning session.
  • Organization Culture does not protect and support failures. In such an environment, the teams do not feel safe to commit to all the planned work and move some of the work to stretch objectives.
  • The organization has a very narrow target band for the Program Predictability Measure. As a result, teams commit to the bare minimum that they are confident of completing. 
  • Team incentives around meeting PI Commitments. This makes them commit less and deliver more.

Agile Coaches can help prevent the misuse of Stretch Objectives

It is essential for the ART (Agile Release Train - the complete program team) to be evident on what are Stretch Objectives and how to use this provision in SAFe. The role of the management, coaches, and the facilitators is to arrest the misuse of these objectives. If the teams are misusing it despite understanding its purpose, the management needs to step back and reflect on what’s missing in the system, which is making the organizations misuse Stretch Objectives.

Stretch Objectives bring predictability to the teams’ undertaking.

Can we do away with stretch objectives?

Actually, no. The most critical role of stretch objectives is that they bring predictability to the teams’ commitments. For an organization to plan and forecast, this predictability is essential.

Many other issues can be uncovered through the facility of creating stretch objectives.

  • What if dependent items are a part of stretch objectives? The PI delivery will be risky
  • What if high business value items are in stretch objectives? 
    The value expected from the PI would be at risk. Also, another round of detailing and understanding would be required to understand why priority items are not being committed to.
  • Teams always deliver stretch objectives - need to understand what is holding them back from committing upfront.
  • Patterns in stretch objectives - usually the technical debt items here - this will eventually increase the technical debt of the systems and decrease the ART velocity.

As you can understand, Stretch Objectives are a powerful tool that the ART can use to predict outcomes effectively and fearlessly plan and commit. The first step is to ensure teams understand it and do not misuse it.

Editor's note: Original blog Published on: Jul 26, 2018

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