Agile Project Management Software
Agile project management software is used by teams practicing an Agile methodology to increase their ability to manage heavy loads of work and track their productivity and efficiency. Because Agile work methods emphasize iterative development and continuous improvement, Agile project management software also helps teams keep up with shifting priorities, changes in a project and the effects those changes have on work that is already in progress.
Finding the Right Agile Project Management Software for Your Business Needs
Whether a team practices Scrum, Kanban or Extreme Programming, leveraging the right Agile software tool can go a long way in helping the team function more smoothly while providing a productive environment for continuous improvement.
In general, teams that do not use a visual Agile software tool may struggle to keep up as the “who, what, when, where and why” of a project get buried in all the data. For example, wikis, spreadsheets and list-based project management tools do a good job of storing information and allowing team members to contribute updates, but if documents do not get updated regularly or are kept as separate files by individual team members, figuring out where to find the right data and, once found, determining the accuracy of that data simply takes too much time.
Excess time spent on locating information is a primary reason Agile teams began using visual project management tools, as opposed to Agile tools that do not provide instant project visibility. Seeing the work, rather than reading about it, helps people quickly comprehend a larger amount of information.
Let’s look at two examples of the same data.
Examples of Agile Project Management Software: Visual vs. List-Based
Let’s walk through a real-world scenario that shows the benefit of using visual Agile software versus list-based Agile software.
LX Corporation is designing and developing a new website platform that better meets the needs of its customers. In this iteration, the team is working to complete some of the design, coding and data integration tasks necessary to the project. The use cases and business rules have been established. Team members understand the project scope and who is assigned to what. While the project seems to have gotten off to a good start, progression has slowed, and stakeholders are asking for status updates.
Let’s examine why this project has stalled.
Using a list-based project spreadsheet, we can see tasks listed in the first column, labeled “Task Description.” The person responsible for getting the task done is listed in the second column, and the status of that task (Not Started, In Progress and Complete) is listed in the third column. The remaining columns show estimates for how long the task may take, broken out by day.
We can see 13 rows of top-level information that tells us what needs to be done, who is doing it and the status. What the chart fails to show is why certain tasks are not yet done and what tasks are dependent on other tasks.
Can you pinpoint where the problem lies by looking at this spreadsheet? Most would agree it is almost impossible to determine much of anything with such a limited amount of information.
After spending several hours investigating, the project manager, Sue, finds out the delay was caused by a basic lack of communication between Bill’s team and Karen’s team. Even though the functional screen designs have been completed, they have not been tested in QA or critiqued by the business owners. Because testing will be pushed back, the “refine” phases of design and coding will also be delayed, causing future, cumulative delays that could cause the total cost of the project to increase.
In this example, it would be easy to blame the team members for failing to properly communicate with one another. But the problem was not the people. While each person tried their best to work together, they did not have the tools necessary to do so efficiently. Bill’s team is located in a different building than Karen’s team, and the two rarely interact in person. Bill not only manages design and development for this project, but he also manages all other design and development projects for the entire company. Bill thought he was doing the right thing by updating the spreadsheet and sending an email to Karen. Karen, who is also working on several other projects and gets over 80 emails per day, didn’t see Bill’s note buried in her inbox. It was not until Sue brought them together a week after Bill was finished that Karen knew to cue her team to begin testing.
Now, look at this example of a kanban board that shows the exact same information. Can you tell there is an issue? Moreover, can you pinpoint where the issue lies?
The difference between the two boards is in the way the data is presented. In the visual board example, the testing item, shown in red, is obvious: Because a milestone was missed (beginning testing on the 7th), an automatic email alert has been sent to Bill, the task owner and Karen, the team member who is waiting downstream for Bill to complete his task before beginning hers. The card has also been assigned as “high” priority, which is represented as a pink icon in the lower right corner of the card. In addition, the card is colored red, indicating there are defects (test items) that need attention. Because the card colors are known to the team, everyone who views this project board can understand within seconds whether there are critical items that need attention.
Ask yourself; which view of the data provides the most comprehensive information? Even though the data itself is almost identical, most people would agree that the data presented in the visual project board is much easier to understand. Using a visual Agile tool that allows team members to “subscribe” to changes and get automatically updated about project status may have made it easier for Bill and Karen’s team to communicate effectively.
Now, multiply the time wasted in this scenario by 10, 20, or 50 team member interactions. The cumulative effect of communication breakdowns can cost companies millions of dollars each year if not kept in check. Using the visual data presented on a project board allows team members to keep up with the constantly changing state of a project’s details while saving time.
Benefits of Using Agile Tools for Software Development Teams
Visual Agile project management software helps teams “see” a project at a glance and helps individuals on a team understand the details without spending too much time inside the tool.
Teams that practice Agile can benefit from using Agile project management software in many ways. Applying the principles of Agile, Agile software makes it easier for teams to work iteratively while improving existing processes. Agile project management software helps teams in the following areas:
- Project planning and visibility
- Productivity and efficiency tracking
- Tracking bug fixes
- Managing backlogs
The planning phase of a project is important to any team practicing Agile because it lays the foundation for proper budgeting, resource allocation, team member headcount and timeline. Ongoing planning in Agile is equally important because it gives teams multiple opportunities to adjust expectations. Status meetings or daily standups allow teams to discuss changes as they occur or as more information becomes available that may affect priorities. Finally, when priorities change, it can impact the level of effort a project will take and the capacity needed to get it done.
Productivity and Efficiency Tracking
Within the context of a project team, it is easy to mistake effort for results. A team may work long hours and still not be able to deliver a tangible product or demo. This is usually because the productivity and/or efficiency of a team has not been optimized through the use of productivity and/or efficiency tracking. To make sure teams are functioning as efficiently as possible, Agile teams employ advanced tracking to measure key performance indicators such as cycle time, cumulative flow and other metrics that indicate how well the team is meeting the needs of the customer.
In most projects, there are action items that are “must-haves,” and there are action items that are “nice-to-haves.” When teams prioritize, they may place tasks related to the primary focus at the top of the cue, while placing the less important tasks in a backlog. A backlog is a collection of “to-do” items that have been recorded and are being saved for future prioritization.
Creating a backlog using a list may allow a team to record the items, but a list does not paint a clear picture of who would do the work and whether that work is related to existing work in progress. Using a visual backlog management system is a great way for Agile teams to see a realistic view of their work so that teams can anticipate the upcoming workload and require people to meet those needs.