Visual Management with Agile Software Tools
While cooperation, communication and adaptation are important to building and maintaining an Agile team, they only carry you so far. To build a sustainable Agile team, many companies use an Agile software tool to help teams manage the complexities of an Agile team.
Agile software not only provides a mechanism by which teams can communicate and collaborate, some Agile software allows project managers to automatically track the key performance indicators of a team’s efficiency, including cycle time, productivity, and its ability to quickly resolve issues and fix bugs.
There are many Agile software tools on the market today. While each Agile tool has it’s own set of unique benefits, they all have one thing in common: they work better when being used along side visual management.
Kanban boards are one of the most useful tools for both Agile and non-Agile teams alike. Because kanban boards are so flexible, they can add an extra layer of visibility to otherwise complex and difficult-to-understand projects that involve many moving pieces.
Kanban boards allow team members and project managers to visually see work in progress without having to read through a long to-do list or decipher data on a spreadsheet. Many project teams use physical whiteboards, cork boards or online kanban boards alongside other project management systems to represent their data in a visual way.
Even if you don’t practice Agile, kanban boards provide a way for busy people to stay organized.
Choosing the Right Agile Software Tool
Agile tools range in price and complexity, from free to paid and from very simple to highly complex. The best way to determine what Agile software tool(s) to choose is to examine the way in which your team currently functions.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when determining which Agile tool is right for you:
- Which Agile methodology is your team interested in adopting or currently practicing?
- Will your team use a combination of Kanban and Agile?
- How large is your team’s average project size? (i.e. How many people are typically involved with executing a project? How long is the typical duration of your team’s projects?)
- Do you currently use existing project management or Agile tools?
Are You Agile, Kanban or a Combination of Both?
First, determine which methodology your team currently practices. If you are not currently practicing a form of Agile, determine which methodology may fit the best. Don’t worry if none of them seem like the right fit. Many teams find something about each method that they want to improve or change. For example, some teams use Kanban boards to make their work visible but also incorporate the daily standup meeting routine provided under Scrum. The practice of customizing your work method to meet the needs of your own team has become common and is a good sign that you are already thinking in terms of continuous improvement.
What’s Your Average Project Size?
Next, ask yourself how large your team’s average project size is. How many people are typically involved in executing a project and where are those people geographically located? How long is the typical project’s duration? If most of your projects are on the shorter end (durations lasting months, rather than years), then you may be better served by a more flexible work methodology like Kanban. Projects on the larger side may be best managed using a form of Scrum.
What Tool(s) Do You Already Use?
Finally, are you currently using an Agile tool? Do you use Basecamp, Excel, Microsoft Project or another project management tool? The ability to integrate an existing Agile tool with other tools prevents a team from having to stop production while they take days or weeks to train on a new tool. Integration also prevents team members from having to enter data twice into two separate systems.
Image from Mountain Goat Software and Mike Cohn