Tag Archives: Microsoft Azure DevOps

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.