Tag Archives: User Stories

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.

Microsoft’s Azure DevOps – Planning Poker Estimation Tool

Although I’ve been a huge fan of PlanningPoker.com since 2011, my Scrum Product team consisted of more than five members, and their Free Membership allows up to 5 users. The team I was working with had just started their agile transformation and was trying out aspects of Agile / Scrum they wanted to adopt. They weren’t about to make the investment in Planning Poker for estimations quite yet, so I stumbled across an estimation tool as a free add-on to Azure DevOps.

Microsoft’s Azure DevOps solution is both a code and requirements repository in one. Requirements are managed from an Agile perspective, through a Product Backlog of user stories. The user story backlog item type contains a field called “Story Points”, or sometimes configured as “Effort”.

Ground Rules – 50k Overview

All team members select from a predetermined relative effort scale, such as Tee Shirt Sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) or Fibonacci sequence (0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) All selections of team members are hidden until the facilitator decides to expose/flip all team selections at once. Flipping at once should help to remove natural biases, such as selecting the same value as the team tech lead’s selection. After that, there’s a team discussion to normalize the value into an agreed selection, such as the average value.

Estimate New Session

Integration with Azure DevOps

The interesting thing about this estimation tool is you can explicitly select stories to perform the effort estimation process right from the backlog, and in turn, once the team agrees upon a value, it can be committed to the User Story in the Backlog. No jumping between user stories, updating and saving field values. All performed from the effort estimation tool.