I’ve completed zero Scrum Education Units (SEUs) and Professional Development Units (PDUs) courses for this cycle, so I need to start ASAP. Here are some relatively new Pluralsight courses in 2023 that looked interesting to me. Some of them are a brief 1 hour, but in the aggregate, they will chip away at your needed continuing education requirements. Some of these courses are for the novice, and some more advanced. Appreciate your feedback if you’ve taken any of these courses.
Pluralsight is a great source of online courses with excellent content beyond product and project management. It covers a wide variety of business and technology courses, and the price is reasonable. At the end of the year, they have a huge discount sale on an annual subscription. You can also try the service for free.
This course will teach people leaders how to avoid common mistakes and improve their change leadership skills. Attendees will learn how to recognize and address challenges such as establishing a culture of change and managing the impact of change.
Influencing without authority is the ability to influence others when you do not have direct responsibility for them. This course will teach you relevant skills to help employees assert themselves to influence positive change in their workplace.
Effective project leaders bring their initiatives in on time and on budget, but that starts by creating a schedule and budget in the first place. Learn the fundamentals of project budgeting and scheduling and how they relate with one another.
Organizations increasingly rely on projects to generate value, while emerging methodologies question how project work gets done. This course explores how an adaptive mindset and servant approach help project leaders succeed in any environment.
Going from dedicated project-funded efforts using Agile and Scrum methodologies, such as Sprint Planning, Backlog Refinement, Sprint Close Demos, etc., to a production support process leveraging the DevOps (Development and Operations) model requires a transition path to be successful.
People, Processes, and Technology need to shift along with this change in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) mandated by management.
Commitment v. “Pulling from the Backlog” Mindset
Agile Teams Leveraging Scrum Ceremonies
At the foundation of Agile with the application of Scrum ceremonies is a commitment from the team and individuals on the team to implement User Stories within an agreed cadence, a Sprint (e.g., two weeks). The product owner and the implementation team articulate what is required to implement the story, produce a collective, relative effort estimate in the form of Story Points, and agree to complete the set of user stories within a given sprint cadence. For each user story, the “Definition of Done” is clearly articulated in the form of “Acceptance Criteria”, and this criteria is used as a guidepost for software development and quality assurance.
As an Agile, Scrum team, you may view your product backlog differently than you would in a DevOps, Development, and Operational model. Scrum teams are focused on the day-to-day work toward implementing user stories and making progress on user stories and Bugs to fulfill their commitments for the current Sprint. Scrum teams are typically focused on implementing work items or removing blockers and may discuss these activities each day during a Daily Scrum or “Daily Standup.”
DevOps – Pull from the Backlog
Unlike Scrum teams, who set up sessions to measure progress in a particular cadence, e.g., two-week sprints with Sprint Planning and Sprint Close sessions, DevOps team members pull from the backlog as their bandwidth becomes available. The [Business] Product Owner and the DevOps team may have some regular or ADHOC sessions for Backlog Grooming / Refinement to ensure the user stories are ready for implementation and prioritized appropriately.
The Product Owner and DevOps team periodically perform Backlog Refinement sessions to make sure the prioritized User Stories have all of the necessary elements to implement the user story. During these Product Backlog Refinement sessions, team members perform a relative effort estimation of each user story. How long will it take to implement the user story? Each team member may indicate how much effort they feel will be needed to implement the product backlog item (a.k.a. User Story). See articles on poker planning, a collective, relative, effort estimation process/tool that standardize how to perform these estimations.
When one of the DevOps team members has the bandwidth to take on one of the stories, they pull it off the backlog and move it to the Board for implementation. [Kanban] Boards have an agreed workflow to allow DevOps team members to move items through the agreed software development lifecycle (SDLC).
Production Critical Alerts Take Precedence
In this process, there is no commitment or agreement when the team member will finish their work on the user story, i.e., complete by Sprint Close cadence. Story Points, or Product Backlog, Size Estimation give the individual and the team an indication of how long the Product Backlog Item (PBI) might take to implement. Unfortunately, the (Development / Operations) DevOps team member’s responsibility stretches beyond “new” work from the Product Backlog. Operations duties, such as reacting to critical application monitoring alerts from the production environment, may take higher precedence.
Where Am I?!?
DevOps team members may have frequent disruptions in their work from production issues and have their heads spinning, switching back and forth from implementing PBIs to handling ADHOC issues from production applications. The Kanban board is one way to get everyone back on the same page with the changes in progress. At a glance, we can visualize the progress of implementing user stories, bugs, and associated tasks on the Kanban board.
Anatomy of a Great Kanban Board
Moving from a Scrum team to a DevOps team, you may, as an individual, be looking at the Kanban board from time to time, such as when you have bandwidth available to work on Bugs or Product Owner prioritized User Stories. The following does not assume your project team transitioned to a DevOps model or a separate DevOps team took over,
Columns Match your DevOps, SDLC Workflow
Regardless of who is doing the work, how the work is being done moving forward is essential to map out the software development lifecycle (SDLC) under DevOps constraints. The DevOps team will establish the states for each work item as they apply to the DevOps team. For example, there may not be QA team members, but there would be a testing process to verify the implementation of a Bug fix or User Story.
However, in a Scrum team going from “Dev Complete” to “Testing Complete” may require a “Release Management” phase, i.e. promoting code from DEV to TEST environments. On a Scrum team, between “Dev Complete” and “Testing Complete”, there may have been a phase to run a cursory or “smoke test” before going to “QA Approved.” This alternate DevOps SDLC process may not require a smoke test anymore due to the team’s composition. Long story short, it’s essential to get your process agreed to and implemented on the DevOps team Kanban board. Each column has a state, and the idea is to move Product Backlog Items (PBIs) from left to right and terminate at the “Closed” status.
Identifying and Removing Blockers
It’s all about keeping the momentum forward. If we cannot work on a Bug or User Story because we are Blocked for any reason, that is time wasted without progress. As a team, we should always be on the lookout for Blocking Issues that prevent our teammates or us from moving forward. Once identified, we aggressively look for ways to unblock ourselves or our teammates. The Kanban Board typically has a “Blocked” status column, so it’s very visible to the team once the PBI is indicated to be Blocked. Of course, the “Blocked” identification and remediation process is not limited to DevOps or Scrum teams.
The HOV Lane for Critical Production Issues
In some cases, changes to production code or configuration need to be dealt with by the DevOps team. These production issues that require “priority treatment”, e.g. Severity = Critical, may go in a “swimlane” on the Kanban board, which clearly articulates these Product Backlog Items (PBIs) are the top priority for the team (see figure above).
Definition of Done – Acceptance Criteria
As in Scrum ceremonies, the “Definition of Done” should be clearly articulated in the PBIs (i.e. user stories and Bugs). Sometimes the Definition of Done fits well in the “Acceptance Criteria” field of the PBI, i.e. these are the following things that need to appear in the code or surface on the UI to be accepted as “Closed” or “Done”.
Work in Progress (WIP) Limits
On some teams, there is a concern about “workflow blockage” at any given state in the SDLC process. For example, there could be 20 PBIs in the “In Progress” state for three DevOps team members. This could be identified as excessive and trying to do too much simultaneously. It also may contribute to confusion on the current state of any given work item. Some Kanban Board tools allow you to apply WIP limits so you cannot add more work items to a given status on the board. It also could be done using a standard paper Kanban board.
If two separate teams are transitioning the work, documentation may be vital in the successful transition and ongoing product maintenance. Many agile teams are lighter on documentation and trust the product speaks for itself. Best case, user stories have been created that cover the team producing/updating a functional specification doc and a wireframe collection. The most probable situation is we have a pristine set of Features and associated User Stories. Each of the User Stories clearly articulates a description and, most importantly, “Acceptance Criteria.” that may be used for the development and validation of the functionality of the system. User Stories can be derived for knowledge transfer documentation.
Always Room to Improve – Retrospective
Although a Retrospective session is typically attributed to a Scrum ceremony, you don’t have to be engaged in Scrum activities to perform a retrospective. Depending upon the DevOps Team composition, it could be a collective, grassroots suggestion, or the team DevOps manager can recommend and facilitate the session. It would be better if a team peer fulfills the role of facilitator, and some retrospective tools allow anonymous feedback.
New to Azure DevOps? Here are a few customization recommendations you can make with minimal experience and deliver maximum value. User Stories are an essential part of delivering using agile methodologies, and Azure DevOps provides a basic template for creating a User Story, such as title, description, and acceptance criteria. However, there are a few additional fields the author of user stories can capture to maximize their agile journey such as MoSCoW priority, Precedence, and Size Estimate to name a few.
In addition, there is a Marketplace (i.e. Library) of Azure DevOps Extensions that can enhance your user’s DevOps experience. The post will cover the recommended extensions to apply to “Out of the Box” implementations of Azure DevOps.
Azure DevOps “Process” Updates: New Fields
Adding Fields to a User Story is very simple, as long as you have access to do so. Upon opening your Azure DevOps (ADO) project, select “Project Settings”, and the “Project details” page should appear. Select the “Process” defined for that project, e.g. “Scrum”. Depending upon which Process type selected, “Scrum” or “Agile”, you will see “Product Backlog Item” or “User Story”. Both may be used interchangabily. Note that only “inherited” processes can be modified by “Project Collection Administrators” group.
A list of Work Item Types appear. Select “User Story” or “Product Backlog Item”. The Layout of the work item will be displayed. Now you are able to add fields, by selecting the “New Field” button.
User Story – MoSCoW for MVP
For a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), where is the line drawn to get the product “out the door”? Here is a methodology called MoSCoW, self-explanatory, in which the capitalization is important and stands for:
“Must Have” – we aren’t going to production without it
Should Have” – borderline must have but could fall off the MVP list if there is pressure to reduce scope to meet timelines, for example.
Could Have” – a story identified but not prioritized in the currently targeted MVP.
“Won’t Have” – identified and then forgotten. It will never reach prod.
User Story – Precedence (Prioritization)
Reminiscent of the original BASIC programming language, using 10, 20, 30, etc., line numbers for execution sequence. In addition, like in BASIC, implement precedence by 10s, so there is room later on to fit in additional work items.
Priority within the Sprint for a given team member
How should someone on the implementation team prioritize their work? Especially important if the team runs out of time for a sprint and only produces the highest business or technology value first.
Priority within a Sprint for all team members
Collectively, as input from the product owner or team tech lead, the most important work items to deliver within a sprint.
User Story: Size Estimate (paired with Story Points)
Relative, standard, effort estimations are essential that everyone on the implementation team is “on the same page.” to sizing the user stories. Although “Story Points” is “Out of the Box” for User Stories, a “Size Estimate” field is not. Relative effort estimations I’ve used before are Tee Shirt sizes (X-small, small, medium, large, X-large), and can be correlated to Story Points to attempt to quantify the effort in days.
User Story: Lead Developer
A custom “Lead Developer” field is valuable for quickly identifying who performed the work. The current “Assigned To” person may not be the developer who implemented the User Story. Most likely, it’s a QA tester or the Product Owner for Accepting Stories.
This could be helpful if you want to track each developer’s progress either by the SUM of Story Points or the COUNT of Stories.
Risks to Compliment Issues
If you’re tracking “Issues,” an “Out of the Box” Azure DevOps work item, then why not add a custom object in the “Process” section called “Risk” and any fields you would like to track with that custom RIsk object?
Azure DevOps Extensions
Created by Microsoft, this extension may or may not already be rolled into the core Azure DevOps product. It’s ideal if you want to externalize in-depth reporting using Microsoft Power BI.
Open in Excel
Created by Microsoft DevLabs, this extension may or may not already be rolled into the core Azure DevOps product.
Azure DevOps Office® Integration 2019
The best tool for importing and exporting work items from Azure DevOps to and from MS Excel. It can be downloaded here.
Created by Microsoft, this extension may or may not already be rolled into the core Azure DevOps product. It’s the closest I’ve seen (for free) with a graphic depiction of delivery timeframes in a Gantt-like chart. You can’t print or export it, which is a massive inhibitor to sharing your timelines with stakeholders outside the ADO universe.
Created by Microsoft DevLabs, this extension may or may not already be rolled into the core Azure DevOps product. It’s Planning Poker in Azure Boards. I enjoy Planning Poker, but this integration may be more convenient because it can save the Story Point values directly to the User Stories. Also, note some corporate environments BLOCK “Planning Poker” on the firewall due to the words in the URL.
Feature timeline and Epic Roadmap
This Azure DevOps extension by Microsoft DevLabs is a close 2nd to the “Delivery Plans” visualization of deliverables. Again, no export or print capabilities.
This extension is a “Must Have” for all teams leveraging the Scrum Retrospectives session. This extension, built by Microsoft DevLabs, is highly configurable and is ideal for remote teams unable to perform this activity in person.
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.
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.
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 Frameworkmay 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.
“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.
Azure DevOps (ADO) reporting “out of the box” or leveraging extensions lacks robust project delivery timeline reporting many are reliant upon for conveying project timelines. Integrations by Microsoft DevLabs such as “Delivery Plans”, “Feature Timelines,” and “Epic Roadmap” all fall short of making the mark. Why? The ADO product targets Sprint delivery and primarily focuses on reporting with the most common graphical paradigms for measuring Project / Sprint progress, such as the Sprint Burndown rather than a Gantt chart.
Still Can’t Print
Sounds like a small ask, but it’s not. None of the aforementioned Azure DevOps Extensions gives the user the ability to print out timelines. I don’t think anyone said, “let’s not let users do that”. Printing out “Gantt-like” charts is not easy with special formatting constraints. If you’ve ever tried to print out an MS Project Gantt chart, you would know the pain of adjusting print parameters to get it just right, e.g., fit to NN page(s)
Still Can’t Share Outside Azure DevOps
This kind of relates to the “Still Can’t Print” issue. In the best-case scenario, users should be able to print their “Gantt like” charts to a PDF, and then the PDF can be used to externalize and vocalize the timelines, for example, with the “Feature TImelines” extension. Yes, you can send a link to these timelines visualizations; however, the user who will try and click the link will need to have some license setup in ADO to see the page.
Reporting Across Projects and Teams within an Org
The Azure DevOps “Delivery Plans” extension has finally empowered users to report across any and all projects across your ADO organization. In addition, filtering by a Team is also available if you have multiple teams working within a project. A portfolio manager could look across their portfolio of projects and only see what is relevant to them.
The Azure DevOps “Delivery Plans” extension allows the user to add markers/milestones to a project timeline. Product “release indicators” could be added to the timeline.
Delivery Plans Extension
Delivery Plans seem to be the most promising visualization tool, with additional capabilities noted:
Styling Rules (Colors, Bold, Italic, Underline)
Fields Displayed on Cards (up to 17)
Drawbacks to Implementation
Field Criteria doesn’t include AND | OR Logic
“Feature Timelines” does a vertical “Group By” Epic, which seems to be a better “delivery focused” view showing which features will be delivered within a specific Epic instead of delivery grouped by Team. At least we should have the option to do either.
Power BI with Gantt Chart Reporting Against ADO
The closest you will come to Azure DevOps Project Plan reporting will be to utilize the Azure DevOps data source from within Power BI and install the Gantt Chart Visualization designed to report on ADO.
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.
Automation / Workflow
Project management automation? You bet!
Anyone not interested in a collaborative environment for dynamic projects doesn’t know the statement “Share the Blame, Pass the Credit.”
“There are no words to express…” so say it in a beautiful, graphical presentation that will get your message across.
Meeting Minutes, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Functional Specifications, random notes, images of error messages, etc.
Financials / Project Reporting
I once had to track a project “THIS BIG“, and it came with a few accountants in tow.
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.
If the team is constantly dealing with production issues, the Kanban board should reflect both new functionality, User Stories and Production issues side by side. Add a “Production Priority” Swim Lane on top of your Kanban board. Visualizing high-priority production issues may have the team reconsider the priority of issues in contrast to new user stories.
Derive Effort Estimations for Input to WIP Prioritization
Team members should use effort estimations to help them prioritize their “Committed” work items. One of the work items, e.g. User Stories, may “cost” disproportionate to the value add, ROI. Focus team member efforts to provide maximum value proportionate to the time spent on work items.
Customizing States for Broad Granularity
New, In Progress, and Closed may not suffice to express work item states. “New” may represent the backlog of items, a queue not yet committed to by a member of the implementation team. Once a team member commits to implementing a user story, “In Progress” may be too wide a meaning, so adding the following states may keep the team in sync with their business process:
Committed – team member commits to implementing work item, E.g. User Story, or Task
Triage – deeper dive into the committed body of work to confirm crisp “Acceptance Criteria” and perform relative, effort estimations
Dev Complete – could indicate code complete, and dev testing conplete
Accepted – a “Closed” status indicating the Product Owner has verified the functionality is implemented in line with expectations, I.e. met Acceptance Criteria
Multicolored Cards Enable Teams to Classify at a Glance
Using different colors for Kanban Board cards allows the implementation team to prioritize work; e.g. Infra Task; E.g. User Interface or API stories. On many implementation teams, members might have areas of expertise such as UI or DB. Those members may hone in on items that are more relevant to them.
Tag, Your IT
Applying tags to Kanban board cards is another level of collectively classifying work items on the board, similar to the multicolored card approach but more diverse, not enough stark color contrast to classify.
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.