With the team working on big projects and figuring out work coming up on the horizon, we have been looking at productivity and streamlining the work process. Our old processes weren’t working and we needed to rethink what we were doing and how we were working.  We have adopted Agile Product Management and Kanban to help us streamline our work.

 

What is Agile?

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Agile (a phrase that has been around in this context since at least the 1970’s) is an approach used in software development to create a collaborative team who are dedicated to delivering a project and will have the skills necessary to oversee and implement all aspects of this delivery. Agile teams are encouraged to be self-organising and creative in their approach to solving tasks. They decide on workload and to adapt and change as necessary in order to speedily deliver a product.

This workload can be broken down into:
  • Epics – An Epic is a larger project, an overall look at what is to be delivered. In order to deliver on an Epic, it is broken down into smaller pieces of work called Stories. Epics are worked over many Sprints.
  • Stories – A story (or large task) is the Epic broken down into smaller portions of the work, or mini-projects within the whole project. Breaking down the Epic into Stories makes the Epic more manageable and easier to portion out tasks to appropriate people. Stories are still worked over more than one Sprint.
  • Tasks – A task is an Epic and Story broken down into manageable Tasks, which should be no more than 10 effort points. Tasks should be manageable within one Sprint. If needed, Tasks can be broken down still into Sub-Tasks in order to complete them but these should still be deliverable within a Sprint.

It can be viewed as something like this:
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Tasks are shown as different sizes to demonstrate that task sizes vary, and therefore Effort Points need to be assigned accordingly.

Some more aspects of Agile Project Management:
  • Ceremonies – These are meetings to plan each Sprint in advance and review past Sprints. This doesn’t need to be a long process. It can be done in 15 minutes, or it can take longer, depending on the Tasks faced during the week.
  • Sprints – Sprints are periods of time in which the team members will work on a set of tasks. These can be set by each team individually but at DTL we work weekdays so a sprint would be Monday to Friday. As each week goes by the Sprint number increases to show time passing.
  • Effort Points – Effort points are specific to individuals and a variety of aspects should be considered when assigning Effort Points to a task, expected time/duration, difficulty of the task, eagerness to do the task, benefits of a task to the project/team, etc. These don’t relate to the specific number of hours but no more effort points should be committed than the team member can realistically be delivered during a Sprint.
  • Blockers – These are issues that crop up to halt a Task during a Sprint. This could be external issues such as waiting for someone to email you back with more information. Anything that halts a Task should be reviewed at a ceremony and the team can try to help remove the block in order to complete the task.

 

What is Kanban?

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Kanban (a word meaning signboard or billboard in Japanese)  is a process of visualising workflow and tasks that need to be accomplished. Much like Agile, it breaks down massive projects into manageable tasks, visualising the entire project process into what is called Kanban boards.

Kanban boards can be incredibly simple, Only showing To Do, Doing and Done. They can also be complicated and break down the entire process of developments from conception to delivery.  In our case, we are using the Kanban board theory to visualise the Epic/Story/Task methodology from Agile.

 

How we implemented it into our work planning

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So, we are borrowing aspects from both the Agile process and the Kanban process to streamline productivity.

We already use Trello to keep track of bigger projects, so it was the perfect tool as the team was already aware of how it works. Here we show an example board showing how we are breaking down our work process. You can see the Epics on the left and the Stories next to it. Then we have a list to capture retrospective effort points of previous sprints. We then have the current sprint and a Done list which completed Task cards are transferred to. Then we have future sprints populated with pre-planned work.

Effort points are captured on the cards using a power-up called Planning Poker. We can set our estimated effort points to each task and this can be tallied at the ceremonies every week.

 

What are the benefits for us

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Transferring completed tasks to the done list is very satisfying. Seeing exactly what you have been able to accomplish during a week is a great feeling. Also, having a larger Project and Story broken down into smaller tasks makes the whole project feel more manageable and that it can be accomplished, rather than being overwhelmed by the whole process.

During the weekly meetings, it’s also great to go through the Effort Points that have been accomplished in the week, and it’s been pretty exciting for the team to discover what they are actually capable of delivering within a week, and seeing whether we have been able to achieve the Effort Points that we have committed or even if we have been able to beat the target.

It has been great for lowering stress levels over project work, creating a more flexible work environment, and it’s easier for the team to keep motivated as we get to decide which work needs to be prioritised and which can be pushed back to future Sprints. We can also have realistic conversations about workload and time management.

 

Any final thoughts?

Have you or your team implemented productivity tools, used Trello, or thought about introducing the Agile or Kanban methodology into your workday? Let us know your thoughts below.

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