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Moving towards a quarterly team story wall

One of the key facets of effective software delivery is continuous improvement to team practices.

The reason I believe physical team walls are so effective in continuous team improvement is that they both reflect good team practices, and drive good team practices. That is, our wall both displays how we’re working, and improves how we work.

If your team is improving how you’re doing things then chances are your wall will look different to how it looked six months ago.

In September I shared how we were using our story wall to display dependencies between tasks for more complex pieces of work.

Our team wall as at September 2019

We’ve since made some improvements to the wall that has continued to improve our effectiveness as a team.

We work in quarterly planning cycles, fortnightly sprints towards our goals, and frequent software releases (once or twice a day typically).

The nice thing about our quarterly planning cycles is that we can neatly fit six sprints within a quarter (12 weeks).

Since the wall represents what we’re doing, and we have this quarterly focus, we thought it would be a good idea to represent the full quarter on our wall. This means our wall currently looks something like:

Quarterly wall

If you zoomed into a single sprint it looks like:

Zoomed into one sprint

Some of the important aspects of the design include:

  1. We put colour coded epics across the top of our board that roughly show when we plan to start each epic. These may not always start at the beginning of a sprint as each epic doesn’t always fit within a sprint and we don’t wait for a new sprint to start a new epic.
  2. Task card colours match the epic to which they belong, except for white cards which are tasks unrelated to an epic – for example tech debt, or a production fix.
  3. Each task card is exactly three columns wide – this is because we try to keep our cycle time, that is the time it takes to pick up a task and merge/release it, to about 3 work days, and each column is one work day. If we find a task is taking much longer than 3 work days it’s a good indication it hasn’t been broken down enough, if it’s much quicker than that we may be creating unnecessary overhead. The benefit of this is more consistent planning, and also effort tracking as we can see at a glance roughly how much effort an epic was by seeing the coloured tickets.
  4. Tasks have a FE/BE label, a JIRA reference, a person who is working on it and one or two stickers representing status.
  5. We continued our status dots – blue for in progress, a smaller yellow sticker to indicate in review, blue and yellow makes a green sticker which is complete. We also use red for blocked tasks, and have added a new sticker which is a purple/pink colour which a black star which indicates this is a tech debt related task.
  6. We move the pink ribbon along each day so it shows us visually where we are at in the sprint/quarter.
  7. We have rows for both team leave, and milestones such as when we enabled a new feature, and also public holidays and team events.
  8. We continue to have our sprint goals and action items displayed clearly at the top of the wall so we can refer back to these during our daily stand up meeting during the sprint to check in on how we’re going.
  9. One extra thing we’ve recently started doing which isn’t represented in the diagram above is when a sprint is complete we shift the cards to the bottom of the wall (in the same columns) so we have a clear future focus, whilst still having a historical view.

We’ve found continually improving our wall represents how our practices have improved and will continue to make improvements as we go. I have no idea how it will look in six months time.

How have you adapted a typical agile wall for your team? How different does it look today than six months ago?