Category Archives: Project Management

Recipe for Optimization: Waterfall, Agile, and Scrum

Many firms try to graduate from Waterfall to Agile without completing the journey. The team may be embedded in an organization with strong ties by leadership to the traditional project plans with milestones. How can three schools of thought coalesce into an SDLC where all sides (mostly) buy into the resulting process?

The challenge with integrating new tools and process updates is to make sure there are no gaps in the new, incremental process. The more changes in people, processes, and technology, the greater the need to independently assess the target state SDLC.

Capability Maturity Model (CMM)

The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is a development model created in 1986 after a study of data collected from organizations that contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense, who funded the research. The term “maturity” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes, from ad hoc practices, to formally defined steps, to managed result metrics, to active optimization of the processes.

The model’s aim is to improve existing software development processes, but it can also be applied to other processes.

Capability Maturity Model (CMM) Wikipedia

Tools Help Shape and Reinforce Product Life Cycle

Process Requirements: Epics, Features, and User Stories

From a top-down perspective, a discrete hierarchy of requirement elements helps logically organize the product requirements and so much more. An Epic is the highest level of requirements definition, which is a Theme of Features bundled together, e.g., for a major release. Features are the “next level” requirements definition and are associated with Epics as children. User Stories are the detailed level requirements and are usually formulated in the form of a narrative. Similar to use cases, there are personas or actors that operate on the product/system and design the implementation of a Feature. Successfully defined user stories have “Acceptance Criteria” for which the QA and/or Product Owner declares the User Story has been implemented according to spec.

Tools for Manging Requirements Implementation

Many SDLC requirements management products, such as Microsoft Azure DevOps and Atlassian JIRA, allow you to define a product backlog of Features and User Stories to be implemented by an implementation team. In addition, the QA implementation team members can create test coverage, i.e., associating Test Cases to each of the User Stories to be executed once (or in parallel to) the user story state has entered some form of “Test Ready” state. Finally, the implementation team may create Tasks as children to a User Story to help granularly track the implementation, such as Database Tasks, UI Tasks, or Interface Tasks.

Agile Manifesto on Documenting Requirements

The Agile Manifesto reinforces the “right” amount of documentation:

Working software over comprehensive documentation

That is, while there is value in the item on the right, we value the items on the left more.

The Agile Manifesto

Classically, in Waterfall SDLC, we await completed documentation such as the finalized Business Requirements document and technical specifications. Leveraging an Agile approach, a Sprint can incorporate incremental business requirements definition and iterate with evolving documentation. In addition, User Stories dictate the requirement in a practical way, where we can see the Persona travel through the User Story, ultimately meeting the “Acceptance Criteria”

There’s Nothing like a Good Gantt Chart

Visual timelines for tasks and milestones, showing dependencies between tasks and predecessor definitions dynamically push dependent work items. Typically, classic waterfall maps out milestones “going beyond the near-term.” Agile may look toward the delivery of one or two sprints ahead, sprints varying in time between one to six weeks each. In some instances applying SAFe, Scaled Agile Framework may instantiate a Product Increment [Sprint], which attempts to plan 8 + weeks ahead.

There are several ways to overlay classic Gantt chart visuals over the product backlog delivery timeframes. Depending on the toolset you use, such as Microsoft Azure DevOps and Atlassian JIRA, these visuals may be provided “out of the box” or leveraging 3rd party extensions, or even exporting the product backlog data to be reported using a 3rd party tool such as Microsoft Power BI.

Burndown Delivers Value

Neophytes to Agile will not be initially exposed to Burndown Charts. Scrum masters, akin to project managers, attempt to measure the health of initiatives using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and, in the case of Agile and Scrum, leverage sprints, story points, and average sprint velocity.

Burndown Release Chart
Burndown Release Chart
  • Story Points Remaining” – All of the user stories contain “Story Points.” Story points are derived from collective, relative effort estimations. Each person on the team guesses the size of each story based on other stories previously estimated. Implementation team members use a consistent scale for estimations, such as the Fibonacci Sequence. All implementation team members estimate each story and speak their answers at the same time. Then a consensus is achieved for a given story. Story Points Remaining is an aggregate of points for a defined major/minor release.
  • Items Not Estimated” – are stories in the “initiative” product backlog that have not yet been estimated. This number can skew the overall burndown estimated completion date/sprint by inflating the number of points still remaining. but are currently unknown. i.e., “Projected Completion” will not be accurate.
  • Total Scope” – is the total number of story points for the “initiative” regardless of user story completion status. There may be an upward tick of Total Scope, as we are agile and are able to accommodate for changes or increases in scope. over the course of the initiative.
  • Remaining” is the bar chart that shows a downward trend in the remaining scope for the initiative. The remaining may also have an uptick in user stories as we see “Items Not Estimated” become estimated.
  • Burndown” should be a downward trend, and based on the tool that derives this graph, it may predict the projected completion of the initiative based on several factors, including average total velocity per sprint.

Daily Scrum v. Daily Status – Removing Blockers

Daily, Weekly, and Biweekly status update sessions with the implementation team are no match for Daily Scrum sessions, which primarily focus on Blockers. Blockers may be Issues that impede progress for the implementation of User Stories. We all focus on unblocking team members so they can implement stories and we can earn Story Points.

Collective, Relative, Effort Estimations

The classic developer SWAG for effort estimations is “two weeks.” None of which may have any basis upon reality. Performing relative effort estimations allows the team to apply a reproducible methodology. We compare the size of a change relative to other changes we have made to the system. Any scale will do so long as you consistently apply the method. For example, you can use tee shirt sizes, Extra Small (XS), Small (S), Medium (M), Large (L), or Extra Large (XL).

Some teams use a sequence of numbers. One most notably used is the Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on forever. with many of my teams, we use 1,3,5,8,13, and 20, a “modified” Fibonacci Sequence for 3-week sprints. If using user stories as the team’s discrete unit of requirements to implement., each story can have “Story Points,” and these points are populated using the Fibonacci Sequence. Your team can equate

  • 1- one day or less; ideal for a small change or spike
  • 3 – three days or less for change to implement
  • 5 – one business week
  • 8 – Week and 1/2
  • 13 – 2 weeks
  • 20 – 3 weeks

When deriving “Story Points,” the implementation team must agree that story points are inclusive of system integration testing.

Perception – Stakeholder Point of View

Stakeholders want to have a holistic review of the project/product health. Actually, that is just some stakeholders. Other stakeholders may just want to know how many open Bugs currently exist with the severity of one. The Scrum Master can develop dynamic reports and dashboards for whoever wants a peek into the product/project health in Azure DevOps and other tools.

Charts help communicate a message and help shape our point of view. Different project stakeholders have different needs of perspectives. Both Agile principles and Waterfall methodologies inspired visual mediums that reflect the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of a project or product evolution.

Agile, what have you done for me lately?

At the end of each sprint, during the Scrum, Sprint Close ceremony, the implementation team members demonstrate/discuss each of their completed user stories. The Product Owner (PO) accepts or reopens the user story based upon the Acceptance Criteria being met. Each user story that is accepted by the Product Owner has Story Points associated with it. All the accepted user stories “earn” story points for the team, and the points are accumulated for each sprint which is the velocity of the team for each sprint.

There are lots of ways the Sprint Close can go “Pear Shaped”.

  • “Acceptance Criteria” was not as detailed as required; the user story results were not entirely what was as expected by the Product Owner.
  • The implementation team took on too many stories and were not able to start/complete the projected stories for the sprint.
  • By failing to deliver on the Sprint “Open/Planning” committed Story Points, the average velocity of the team’s sprint may likely go down.

As a team, make sure you are prepared for the Sprint Close by performing Product Backlog Refinement days before to confirm things like “Acceptance Criteria” verbiage with the implementation team and the Product Owner. Work in Progress or WIP limits could help the team focus on their bandwidth and apply constraints to how many user stories the team can work on at one time, thus minimizing over-promising the Product Owner.

Waterfall Gates Persist

  • User Acceptance Testing – The business team(s) insisted they validate anything before it goes into the production environment.
  • Approvals from Internal Teams – conformity to organization architecture standards, for example, must be approved when changes in target state architecture changes are proposed.

Questions and Comments Appreciated

Please let me know if I missed any other Agile, Scrum, and Waterfall areas that can cohabitate/coalesce into cohesive SDLC.

Tools of the Trade

2nd Edition – July 2021

Project Managers, Scrum Masters and Agents of Change

If you’re working on any type of project as a Project Manager, Scrum Master, or are part of any change management process, these tools should be in your technology toolkit. Over the years I’ve adopted the tools listed here. Some of these products were already part of the corporate environment, so I was required to use them, sometimes to my chagrin. In other corporate environments, I had the freedom to identify, select, and adopt one or more of these tools for teams I led. I hope this article introduces you to the next tool in your toolkit.

Project and Product Management Tools

Regardless of project implementation methodologies, as an agent of change, tracking requests for change, and approved changes for implementation should be quantified for effort and costs associated with the changes. Categorizing, classifying, prioritizing changes are all possible if changes are captured, tracked and opportunities compared.

Project and Product Management Tools
Project and Product Management Tools

Automation / Workflow

Project management automation? You bet!

Automation/Workflow
Automation/Workflow

Collaboration

Anyone not interested in a collaborative environment for dynamic projects doesn’t know the statement “Share the Blame, Pass the Credit.”

Collaboration
Collaboration

Communication

“There are no words to express…” so say it in a beautiful, graphical presentation that will get your message across.

Communication
Communication

Documentation

Meeting Minutes, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Functional Specifications, random notes, images of error messages, etc.

Documentation
Documentation

Financials / Project Reporting

I once had to track a project “THIS BIG“, and it came with a few accountants in tow.

Financials / Project Reporting
Financials / Project Reporting

Download a PDF of the Project Manager / Scrum Master Toolkit

Products in Use Today, and Additional Tools

This list is to highlight the most recent tools I’ve used “in the field”.  Just because I’ve omitted a product or service, it doesn’t mean I don’t advocate their use.  Please see the archive file below on additional tools I’ve used prior to my most recent engagements.

Last Published PM/SM Toolkit from 2017 ( Archive for Reference)

Want to Have Your Product Evaluated?

If you’re interested in a product review of your software targeting Project Managers or Scrum Masters, please contact me with your product information, and I will follow up.

Delineation of Work Items, Segregated by Tech Stack

Building any multitiered solution is not just creating a User Interface to render the data, there is most likely a service tier that fetches data from a database, and serves that data up to the UI to then be rendered. How do you derive work items in your product backlog? One User Story, and multiple child tasks, one task per tech stack tier, UI, service tier, and database? Or three user stories, one per tech stack tier?

User Stories Defined, Per Tech Stack Tier

There are clear advantages of representing most work items with User Stories such as deriving story points, determining team average velocity, and a more accurate burndown chart depicting a downward trending scope and implementation of user stories.

Using child Tasks of user stories may obfuscate the total work required to implementation of the solution unless baked into the parent story points. Tasks are typically tracked in terms of hours, and separately user story points are calculated/derived from a collective, relative effort estimation, e.g. Fibonacci sequence; 1,3,5,8,13,20…, and many teams may overlay this scale to fit their sprint duration.

Feature and Story Planning – At a Glance

In order to organize each feature, and correlated user stories, teams may use a prefix in the title of the user stories, such as [UI] or [DB]. At a glance, a product owner, or the implementation team can see if all the required stories for a given feature have all the elements required to implement the feature. For example, if a new report needs to be created, multiple stories must contain [UI], [API], and [DB] stories.

Drawbacks – Accepting a User Story as Complete

If you segment your product backlog user stories based on tech stack, you may need to wait until all related stories, UI, API, and DB have been implemented. For example, If your API and DB stories are developed, and not the User Interface (UI), you’re QA/Testing may not start until the UI story has been deployed. Of course, your tester could test the API using testing tools like SoapUI.

Azure DevOps 6 “Most Wanted” Features

Integration of SharePoint into Azure DevOps and Toss the Current Wiki

JIRA and Confluence a powerful combination. Microsoft should ditch the Wiki integrated into the Overview module, and use SharePoint (lite) instead. Put your best foot forward!

Backlog “Feature Timeline” Filtering

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, the add on “Feature Timeline” by Microsoft is a fantastic bridge between Agile and Waterfall, displaying a Feature [i.e. Milestone] timeline. Expand upon this module with additional capabilities, such as filtering Features by Tags.

Microsoft Teams Chat mentions in Azure DevOps (ADO) Product Activity Feeds

I like trolling the Activity Feed on my Dashboard as much as the next person. Let’s add some external, yet related data sources, such as Microsoft Team Chats directly correlated ADO Team == Microsoft Team. Is that a setting, linking MS Azure DevOps Team to Microsoft Team? Should be…

Auto-generation of Release Notes After Each Build from Repos into the Azure DevOps Wiki

  • Similar to Java Doc, in line code comments roll up into C# Function doc
  • Commits Required to Specify Correlated Work Item IDs
  • Dynamic Wiki Page creation for each build, including release notes, unit test suite execution results

Ability to Create Azure DevOps Wiki pages from within Power Automate (i.e. MS Flow)

Shared Queries Segregated by Teams within the Project

Teams each have their own view of relevant Team information such as Dashboards per team

Runner Up Features

  1. Need the ability to re-name Azure DevOps Dashboards
  2. Need the ability to Clone Dashboards
  3. Product / Project / Portfolio Level Capacity Planning – 3rd party integration, OnePlan handles this requirement

The Power of Collective Consensus for Story Point Effort Estimations

Blind Concurrent Flip

The bartering of effort estimations between a team of 5 or more is really cool to witness and even further awesome to negotiate the consensus process. Not quite the process of the US Congress, but still attempting those on the periphery, extreme right or left of the bell curve of outliers to move toward the consensus. Discuss and draw near the point of consensus under which individuals discover their own need for resolution under grounds of somewhat tangible to their position of an item so complex gives one hope for a grander purpose.

A synonymous flip of the cards leading to the reveal moment is humbling when a team, after several rounds of dissonance, start into a pattern yielding the voting of a collective cohesion. Why do we start voting along a mutual agreement without the need for cohesion?

Can I Convince You to..

What if Chris Wallace facilitated a Planning Poker exercise between the two presidential candidates instead of a debate, driving consensus between the two presidential hopefuls?

Best Kept Secret of Azure DevOps by Microsoft – Feature and Epic Roadmap

One of the first hurdles to get over when working with a manager who is accustomed to working with Waterfall projects:

Show me our milestones for this project, and when are theses project artifacts to be delivered? Is there a timeline that articulates our deliverables? I want to know when I should get engaged in the project, such as when milestone delivery dates’ slip, and we need to revisit or rebaseline our projected delivery timetable.

Going through the agile transformation on the team level, invoking the Agile Values empowers the team to “Respond to Change”, which may deviate from our initially targeted “milestones”. Not only the timetable may shift, but the milestone, and what it represents may significantly change, and that’s OK with an Agile team. Product stakeholders outside the team may not be adaptive to changes in deliverables. “Outside” stakeholders may not be engaged in the cadence of Scrum ceremonies.

Four Agile Values
Four Agile Values

When working with Agile toolsets like JIRA, and Azure DevOps, a Gantt chart does not traditionally come to mind. We think of a product backlog and user story commitments to the current, and next sprint(s). Maybe we are targeting several sprints of work transparency, such as leveraged with SAFe, and Planning (IP) Iteration. We’re still not seeing the visuals in the “traditional” style from Waterfall efforts.

Azure DevOps Provides the Necessary Visuals

So, how do we keep our “outside” product Stakeholders engaged in the product life cycle without inviting them to all Scrum ceremonies? We don’t have Gantt charts, but we do have “Feature timeline and Epic Roadmap” as a plugin to Azure DevOps through the Microsoft Marketplace, for FREE by Microsoft DevLabs. To me, this functionality should be “out of the box”, but apparently this was not the case. I had to have the need/pain in order for me to do research to find this plugin and install it in our enterprise environment. Why would Microsoft disassociate itself with this plugin to some small degree? I can only hypothesize, like the man in the grassy knoll. Regardless of why, “It’s in there, ready for you to install

Articulate Epics, Features, and User Stories

1. Populate the Product Backlog with Features and Epics

Using Azure DevOps, during the initial phase of the effort, Sprint 0, work with your Product Owner to catalog the Features you are looking to deliver within your product evolution, i.e. Project. Each of these features should roll up into Epics, also commonly called Themes. Epics are the highest level of articulation of delivery.

2. Define User Stories, and Attribute them to Features

Working with the Product Owner, and the implementation team, create User Stories in the Product backlog which will help the team to implement the Feature set. Make sure to correlate each of the User Stories to the Features defined in your Product Backlog. User Story, effort estimations would also be helpful to determine “how big”, i.e. how many sprints it will take to implement the feature.

3. Plan Feature Delivery Within / Across Sprints

Within Azure DevOps, Boards –> Backlogs, Team Backlog, and select “Feature Timeline”. From there, you are able to drop, drag, and define the periods of Feature delivery.

  • All Sprints are displayed as Columns horizontally across the top of the chart. There is an indicator of the current sprint.
  • On the left side are Epics, and the rows REPRESENT Features within the Epics.
  • Select the box, “Plan Features”, and a column of unplanned Features will appear to the right of the screen.
Feature Timeline - Plan Features Step 0
Feature Timeline – Plan Features Step 0
  • Drop and Drag a Feature from the list of unplanned Features into one of the defined Sprints. Deselect “Plan Features”, and then select the “Info” icon on the planned Feature. A Feature dialog box will appear to the user with all of the User Stories associated with the Feature.
  • User can drop and drag User Stories from the “Backlog” column to any of the Sprint buckets.
  • Finally, the user should define the Start Iteration and End Iteration for each feature, showing how Features span multiple sprints and an estimation of when the Feature work will conclude.
Feature Planning - Feature, User Story, Sprint Planning
Feature Planning – Feature, User Story, Sprint Planning
  • Note, although Features may span multiple sprints, User Stories cannot within this Feature planning view of Azure DevOps. The approach of a single user story fitting into a single sprint makes sense as implemented in the “Agile Mindset”.

The Final Product – Epic and Feature Roadmap

Epic and Feature Roadmap
Epic and Feature Roadmap

Drawback

Although this view is immensely valuable to articulate to ALL stakeholders at both a high and low-level, Epic, Feature to the User Story, there is no Print capability, just as annoying as trying to print out Gantt charts.

Alternatives

Microsoft 365 Project offers the capability of building Roadmaps and Timeline (Gantt) views. From Microsoft Project 365, the user connects to the Azure DevOps server in order to import all of the User Stories desired to track. At first glance, the user would be tracking Azure DevOps, User Stories, which, in my opinion, should be done at the Feature level, one layer of abstraction for business communication.

MS Project Roadmap
MS Project Roadmap

The other aspect of MS 365 Project, is the cost, three tiers, and if you want to use the Roadmap capability, it’s $30 per user/month. Here’s a video blog, 4-minute video that shows how to get started.

Agile Manifesto – Personal Reflection

Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools

Stereotypical software developers are introverts, heads down, coding. Articulating where they are in the development lifecycle sometimes heavily relies upon tools for measuring progress such as JIRA, Product Backlog status of User Stories, e.g. “In Progress” with an Effort estimation of 3.

“Blocked” User Stories may require the implementation team to “break out of their shell” and work with their teammates to “unblock” Product Backlog items. It breaks people out of their comfort zone. We need to discuss options and opportunities for removing blockers. “All for One, and One for all”

Working Product over Comprehensive Documentation

Over a decade or so ago, the measure of my merit was the complete test coverage of requirements for software implementation. Back then I was a QA lead, and my focus was to make sure all use cases for the software under development had complete test coverage.

Requirements changes from our business through our business analysts must be vetted with the QA team so use cases/test cases must be updated to ensure coverage. Sometimes a dependency of one requirement had a ripple effect throughout the software, so lots of documentation updates were required. Milestone dates were in many cases fixed, so teams were squeezed to do more with less time.

Flash forward to today, and leveraging Agile principles, I breathe a slight sigh of relief. Iterating product delivery via sprints every 2 weeks is supremely better than attempting to traverse updates to Business Requirements Documents (BRD), and technical specs. User Stories in a Backlog are much more succinct, and in some cases, a bit more abstract leaving functionality open to some level of ambiguity and interpretation.

Sprint Close scrum ceremonies every two weeks with our Product Owner, the central mouthpiece for the definition of the software product helps define the path forward. Did we get it right? Where do we need to make changes? There is no substitute for an evolving product and accompanying dialog with our Product Owner.

Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Both sides of the aisle seem to agree, building a solution with iterative input from the customer enables the product vision to be realized far better than without frequent touchpoints.

Statements of Work (SoW) to engage 3rd party solutions integrators (SI) may be abstract in some way. Holding vendors accountable for loosely formed requirements is tenuous at best. Quibbling about he said, she said is a waste of time.

Fail fast, engage regularly and often with our [Business] Product Owner enables us to collaborate on a working solution. The focus is on the evolving product vision and not the paper trail.

Responding to Change over Following a Plan

A “last-minute” change request? It could push back our timelines and accompanying milestones. Dates can’t change, and teams need to absorb the changes, i.e. nights and weekends. Responding to incremental changes at a regular cadence is a sustainable life cycle.

When Stakeholders Collide

Requirements Expedition

Maybe you’ll meet them during the Project Kickoff. Maybe you’ll first hear from them during a biweekly Steering Committee. Or maybe you will first hear from them three months into the project at a quarterly meeting with the CIO and the rest of his portfolio. Maybe you will never hear from them directly.

The politics of requirements gathering and prioritization is a daunting process. I’m not going to drudge up all the stories and categorize them here because it’s a painful process.

Why are some of your milestones in your project plan:

• the milestone exists within someone’s year end evaluation

• the requirements of a milestone are so bipolar, they are bound to fail. Need a project to bucket the requirements to say “we tried”, and we can pin it to a project.

• backing into established project timelines based on expectations set at the highest levels, e.g. regulatory compliance

Legal and Compliance Stakeholders

Global representation of legal and compliance requirements are a dichotomy of legal precedence between jurisdictions.

Agile Product Owner verse Waterfall Stakeholder Committee(s)

Many a project managed using waterfall kept me balancing the needs and wants of Stakeholders from all walks of life, some exuberantly voicing their opinions regardless of their position of power, or lack therein. The Agile Product Owner (PO) is a relief of burden, a single mouthpiece of the business, which dictates backlog priority.

Does Agile make the requirements gathering and prioritization pain go away? Possibly. There are various implementations of Agile, hybrid situations, and there are lots of tools out there to help manage the Product Backlog (requirements). Another exercise, developing User Journeys, working with your Personas / actors to derive their story, that is telling and lots of fun.