Agile Management Enablement
By Brian Reynolds
About a year ago, my company embarked on a new course to use the Agile methodology in project management, for the ongoing development for one of our enterprise level applications. As you may be aware, this methodology offers many advantages to a traditional approach such as waterfall. At any point in the project, given a reasonable duration (called a sprint), the development can move in a new direction to meet the ever-changing business needs of an organization. However one item of extreme usefulness in this methodology is a good management tool, which can be invaluable in both tracking and reporting progress of the development process.
After evaluating the features and the all-important cost analysis, we settled on a cloud-based solution called VersionOne, which has met our needs quite well at a moderate price. While the application was a bit immature when we came onboard, they have used the Agile methodology themselves to react to their customers feedback, and released a new major version to bring it up to speed. This tool provides all the major functionality I would expect to help manage my Agile team, as well as the major reporting tools for my product owner and stakeholders to extract the information they care about.
Using a clean tab-based interface, I can easily step through the initial setup and ongoing management of my project, using the major areas of Project Planning, Release Planning, Sprint Planning, and Sprint Tracking. I first set up my various projects (of course this started with our singular initial venture into the methodology), and within that I set up my envisioned releases for the near future. I then worked with my Product Owner to populate the backlog, with a nice metric of backlog item versus defect to help the client differentiate new development versus bug fixing. The backlog items were then prioritized by the Owner, and those most pressing were categorized into the nearest releases.
Moving on to the Sprint Planning tab, I created my sprint, planned my capacity, and then by simply dragging and dropping, I populated my next block of work. In very short order, we were ready to bring our developers in and dive into this new frontier. With a populated sprint, it’s as easy as giving the developers access so they can begin claiming their tasks and tracking time. I actually found it necessary to go one level deeper with my breakdown, creating tasks beneath the backlog items to create clarity when allowing for multiple developers on single items. Thankfully, VersionOne provided this with just a couple clicks, and rolled up my estimates and the developers’ tracked time to every level.
Finally, my Product Owner and I ventured into the Reporting tab, where we found natively all the major reports you would expect from an Agile tool. The burndown chart let us judge our progress throughout the sprint to anticipate if we would complete our planned items, and if not we could begin thinking about how to prioritize for the next sprint. Capacity tracking charts helped us get better at planning how much to try to fit into a sprint without over or under committing. The stakeholders even used the tool’s native feature group functionality to categorize the backlog items, and then utilized the associated reports to keep up with the progress of each bucket of functionality over time.
While we had success with VersionOne meeting our needs and fitting our budget, we did look at several other solutions. You should not dismiss doing your own research, as the needs of every organization will vary at least slightly. The main thing to keep in mind is that without a management tool to aid in the Agile process, it will be very easy to succumb to the many pitfalls of the methodology and lose sight of the goal. Use a good management tool to stay lean, mean, and adaptable in any circumstance you are faced with.
Brian Reynolds has several years of experience in the IT industry, over a year of which he has served as a certified scrum master. He brings a technical computer science background to the job, allowing for better understanding of both client and development concerns. He has been with PointSource for over 3 years as a project manager, and helped lead their transition into the agile development methodology.