Thursday, January 29, 2009

Managing stories electronically

I've been involved in this agile project at my client for some time and for the past three months or so I've been working in a group that favors a low fidelity mechanism for managing their stories--Post-It notes on a board. The stories, tasks, and acceptance tests are all written on Post-It notes. We are required to keep the stories and tasks in Team Foundation Server (TFS) also, but the group manages the iteration's work from the Post-It notes. The TFS eScrum template is not a particular good system for managing stories and tasks, so we tend to stick to the low fidelity method.

I really dislike this behavior. The Post-It notes are difficult to keep stuck to anything for the entire iteration. They drop off the board and mysteriously get lost. The Post-It notes are typically written in many different handwritings. There's no consistency in display of stories and tasks. Some of the Post-It notes are almost unreadable. The format of the Post-It notes is not consistent. It's difficult to write much on a single Post-It note. Reporting, well...

I'm a big believer in managing your stories and tasks electronically. Use the Post-It notes during iteration planning to facilitate teamwork and collaboration, but don't leave the stories, acceptance tests and tasks in that form for any amount of time. Get them into a tracking system that allows you to easily manage the stories and tasks for the iteration. I'm a big believer of a dashboard view that gives you a high level overview of all the iterations stories and their progress in a single view.

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  1. Enthusiastically seconded.

    Paper post-its are also VERY hard to "edit."

  2. Any thoughts on software that can help you manage this? I've tried Rally and that was OK but I wasn't that impressed. I see there's a plugin for JIRA called Greenhopper but I haven't used it. And of course, from our local friends at Refactr there's Lean-to. Any others you can think of or suggest?

  3. I feel your irritations with PostIt notes; but if I had to choose which is indispensible, I'd opt for low-fidelity Post-its on a well-maintained, frequently updated, and attractive story wall.

    Most electronic tools are junk. TFS, Version One, and Mingle are all counter-intuitive and sorely lacking. One exception is the open source XPlanner which is butt ugly, but nominally functional.

    My concern with tools is that the team intelligence is hidden on a server – rather than in plain view. With a stickyfied story wall, progress or impediment all see the light of day (albeit fluorescent).

    3M makes pricier “extra sticky” PostIts. And, if you have a glass window instead of a wall, the PostIts adhere much better.

    That said, I’m building a tool for my Google phone, so I’m full of sh#t.

  4. @Mike Hugo

    Yeah, most of the current offerings are not great and cost money. I've successfully used XPlanner in the past, but it's development seems to have stopped. I've looked at Lean-to, but again, it looked like a commercial offering and something that was hosted. I'm actually collecting my thoughts on what I would want to have in such a system . I'd be happy to share those with you offline. Longer term, I think I may try and take some of my thoughts and put something together in Grails. I'm coming full circle on Grails and looking to get myself reacquainted with that community.

  5. @Bob MacNeal

    Attractive is the key word here. Thanks for bringing that up. I was trying to say that in the original blog posting. Our story board is not at all attractive. It does not convey team intelligence. Perhaps team dysfunction, but not team intelligence.