On The Inside: Finally Deciding What To Do

Welcome back to On The Inside! This is part 4 of my Agile adventure at Allthings, a technology startup in sunny Dundee building a group project collaboration tool. If you haven’t read part 1 (which is all about diving into the deep-end!) then you can find it here (you can read last weeks here). I’m trying to give an honest, personal, warts-and-all account of our journey…

 In the last episode of On the Inside I began explaining the first steps we took in deciding which features to work on next. Above all, I wanted to get past the “I want it all and I want it now” dilemma. I left you last week after the triumphant change from 350 features to 10 themes, with Economic Values. The next step was to add a cost to each feature.

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In most agile approaches, a relative estimation system using story points is used. If you don’t know how that works I’ll be writing more about this soon. For now I’ll just say that I created another custom field called cost and stacked the list by that custom field. (Later on we added the feature to stack by the estimated effort field so that the estimate shows up in the badges on each feature.)

I sat the team down and we picked some starting features and gave them a value to set the scale initially. Then we gave a rough relative estimate to as many stories as we could do in an hour. We did that 3 times per week until we were through most of the backlog.

The ‘Stack by’ estimated effort view really helps compare all your stories with the same point value together: e.g. so all of your 3-point stories are about the same effort. Consistency of story estimates in relation to effort is key in making the sprint and release planning more predictable.

 

 

Now we had a cost and some way to evaluate the stories in each theme. I kept talking to the business at every opportunity, especially about who they thought their customers were and who they were trying to target. I started to see that there were 4 distinct personas emerging. The single person, the product manager, the agile team and the project manager. I tried to create a roadmap to show which features would appeal to each of these personas. It was an experiment but it helped communicate that by some set of features we were appealing to a target audience.

 

The idea being that we would select features, or groups of features, along these chains like a radar chart trying to do a bit of each and working our way out to our target personas.

When I showed this to the business I, of course, hadn’t got it exactly as they were imagining. There was no way I was going to get it 100% right but now we had something that we could talk about and something that we could collaborate around to decide together what the direction should be.

All well and good but how does this roadmap relate to the stories in the backlog? Well, we chose to target some of the features in the Integration theme to help allthings work well with existing tools people use in an organization. This would hopefully make it easier for customers to choose our tool to use alongside what they already used.

I went through the integration theme with the team and we discussed each feature to help clarify the scope and intention. We added descriptions, pictures, links and decisions we’d made to the stories as we went making sure they were ready to be worked on.

When we were happy I created another custom field called ‘Sprint’ to hold the sprint number and we could then roughly schedule the features making a rough release plan and order of work.

 

 

The idea here wasn’t to get a plan set in stone that we’d follow without question, but for everyone to just get a feel for the overall story of our integration theme release, to reconnoiter the whole project and maybe see if there were any potential pitfalls to be avoided.

We didn’t fill the sprints to capacity but we did order the work into rough chunks that made sense to everyone to go together. Detailing exactly what would went into each sprint would follow in the sprint planning meeting.

So now we had a plan. Something we could work from and a direction for the future. We didn’t have all the answers but we had enough to move forward and – more importantly – move forward together.

I suspect that not being able to pick what to do next is quite a common problem in many organizations and I would really like to hear from you how you’ve managed to solve these issues. I hope you will get in touch either in the comments below or you can email me at pete.gordon@allthings.io

This is part 4 of an ongoing series. Click on the links below If you would like to read previous episodes of On the Inside!