“Out of the box” there are Process Workflow features to build automation rules within Microsoft Azure DevOps (ADO). One caveat found thus far. If criteria is met for an update to an ADO object, user is unable to update the Tags of an object (e.g. append tags). Bizarre but true.
In this case, the user must leverage Power Automate to update the ADO object to append Tags to the object that meets the criteria.
Thanks Omer for pointing out this shortfall so we could plug the hole with Microsoft Power Automate. Note: other fields can be updated when the rule is executed, just not the Tags field. Special logic is required to update this field, i.e. Replace, Append, Remove
With one Power BI report, users have the ability to report against ALL of their Azure DevOps servers and ADO Projects within a single report, and data would be up to date.
Out of the Box Capabilities
For those who need to pull data out of Microsoft Azure DevOps for reporting purposes, there are challenges when attempting to provide that information outside of Azure DevOps.
Typically, if I want to share project reports with my stakeholders, I would provide them a link to share these dynamic dashboards which focus on what they want to see. Project stakeholders may want to see an upcoming production release “bill of health” view, e.g. Burndown chart, Average Velocity, open critical bugs, etc.
However, what if some of your stakeholders don’t have or want access to Azure DevOps? Well, you could take a screen capture of a dashboard, and email your stakeholders that information or…
Power BI to the Rescue
Using both Power BI Desktop, a free license, and cloud Power BI Pro within the Office 365 suite of products, you can create a suite of reports against the Azure DevOps data, and share those reports on a schedule of your choosing. There are also several Analytics / Views that come with Azure DevOps to get you started.
Step 1: Select the Data Source:
Launch Power BI Desktop application found in the Microsoft Marketplace. Select “Get Data” after launching the application. Then a list of data sources is displayed to the user. Select “Online Services” data source group, “Azure DevOps (Beta), then “Connect”.
The user should then be presented with an Azure DevOps login.
Enter your Azure DevOps instance details for connecting to your site. If you are already logged into Azure DevOps in another browser tab, no additional authentication is required. You should now be presented with a list of Analytics / Views that come with ADO “out of the box”.
Just for demonstration purposes, please select the first item on the list, “Bugs – All History by Month”. A preview of the data should be shown on the right side of the panel. Select the “Load” button, which should be enabled if you’ve followed the steps thus far.
On the right side of the screen, there should be a panel called “Fields”. You can select all or some of the columns/fields within the View that was pulled from ADO. As you select the fields, they should populate on the left side of the screen, “Page 1” of the Power BI report. At this point, you may leverage your Power BI prowess to build graphical visualizations of the data you’ve imported.
Save your Power BI report, and then “Publish to Power BI”. The default destination is “My Workspace”, which should be defined with the use of the Power BI Pro, Office 365 app. Save the report and close the Power BI Desktop app. Open the Power BI cloud app from Office 365.
Open the “My Workspace” folder, and look for the “Dataset” and accompanying Power BI “Report” you just created. Click on the “Dataset” with the same name as your report to open it. Select the “Refresh” menu, and the “Schedule Refresh” menu item. Define your schedule to run BEFORE you will push the report via email to your stakeholders.
Go back to your home screen, select “My workspace”, then select the report you’ve created. Once the report appears, select the “Subscribe” menu. select the menu item “+ Add new Subscription”. Populate the who, what, and when, then select the “Save and Close” button.
That’s it. You could then start to create your own Analytics Views from within Azure DevOps, and then create Power BI reports.
“Analytics views are data sets that are exposed to Power BI. You can use views to create reports based on your Azure DevOps data. This feature is in preview. How do I use analytics views?“
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Outside the Product Owner and the implementation team, senior stakeholders may require milestones articulating deliverables.
Epics or Themes, high-level declaration of the “Release” essence, rolls up from Features, and Product Backlog Items (PBI). Relative effort estimations may be applied at the PBI level, and then rolled up to calculate/guestimate the duration of Epics.
Look toward SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) to change the culture by providing an opportunity for the entire organization to participate in the Agile process. “Product Increments” present windows of opportunity every 8 to 10 weeks.
Product Increments may involve multiple scrum teams, their scope, and how these teams may intersect. In order to synchronize these Scrum Teams, SAFe introduces Agile Release Trains (ART), and Release Train Engineers (RTE) to coordinate cadence of the scrum teams to be in alignment with Epic and Feature deliverables.
Stakeholders may require a “waterfall” plan to understand delivery timeframes for milestone artifact deliverables. For example, “When do we deliver in the plan? We have dependencies on XYZ to build upon and integrate”
External teams may have dependencies on artifacts delivered in the plan thus cross scrum team interaction is critical, sometimes through a reoccurring ceremony “Scrum of Scrums“.
Additional transparency into the scrum team or the “Circle of Trust” can be provided through the use of Dashboards. Dashboards may contain widgets that produce real-time views into the current initiative. Key Project Indicators (KPIs), metrics being monitored to determine the success of Product ABC Epic Phase completion.
Dashboards may include: Average Team Velocity, Burn Down, Burn Up, Bug Status by Severity, and metrics that are initiative focused, e.g. N out of Y BI Reports have been completed.
I can’t help but chuckle at this scene with Peter Quill and the rest of “the scrum team” as they “deep dive” on the plan. It sounds more like the waterfall approach, the stakeholder and Project Charter on a napkin.
Product Owner knowing a relatively small portion of “the plan” before executing the plan. Fail Fast, and Fail Often.
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.
A relic of the Waterfall model is the construct of a “gate” process. In order for a project to achieve a milestone, the project/solution would need to achieve certain criteria that would allow it to go to the next phase of the project. For example, going from solidifying requirements in a Business Requirements Doc (BRD) to the software implementation phase.
In Agile, we leverage the Product Owner (PO) and the Product Backlog to determine what gets done and when. A Product Backlog item (PBI) may cover the full lifecycle of a Feature, from requirements to implementation. The Product Owner dictates acceptance of the PBI based on the status/transparency of the Backlog, such as the criticality of the Bugs linked to the PBI. Product quality and implemented functionality are transparent to the PO, who will determine the next steps such as release the software, and/or go through another iteration/sprint. Iterations are a defined cadence agreed to by the implementation team and the Product owner, typically, 2-week sprints.
Agile, Hybrid Environments: Opportunities for Synergy
Epics, Features, Product Backlog Items, and Tasks are object types in a Backlog that enable the PO and the team to link objectsand plan over multiple sprints. Epics or Themes of Sprints are “high level”, potentially strategic initiatives. Features roll up into Epics as a part of several sprints. Either Epics or Features may be high enough level to link to Psydo Project Milestones for a product roadmap of deliverables, and solicitation outside the team.
Aggregation of Product Backlog Items, Effort Estimations, roll up into Features, and then up into Epics, which roughly equate to milestone timelines.
The “Definition of Done” (DoD) for a Product Backlog Item may require 0 outstanding Bugs with the severity of “Critical” linked to this PBI. The DoD criteria could be analogous to a traditional Quality Assurance gate.
Tasks that are production rollout activities, without a project plan, should be planned for in future sprints, akin to estimating when items may be completed in the proper sequence. Some of the Tasks may be placed conservatively in “early” sprints and may require items to be “pushed forward” after each of the iterations.