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Agile Tools Can Be More than Overhead

27 March 2015


During my Agile journey over the last few years, I have often heard teams say that Agile tools such as Rally or JIRA, RTC, and others in the market add no value. Using and updating them is just overhead.

I was a project manager during the Waterfall days, and in the past few years a ScrumMaster/Agile coach helping teams iterate toward agility. I would like to share some ideas, based on my practical experience, about how and why I think these tools do add value and can be more than overhead.

It would be great to hear views and comments from fellow Agile/Scrum practitioners.

Plan for the unplanned

A severity 1 production issue, customer escalation, a technical issue more complex than anticipated, and a personal emergency! You have to deal with all these, and it means you cannot complete all the work you committed to for an iteration. Agile tools give you a quick, easy, and visual way to determine how many tasks will be impacted; to raise flags in a timely manner; to discuss with the team; and to reprioritize, replan, and reassign effectively.

Manage change

Change during the course of a project is inevitable nowadays. Agile tools provide a place to add changed scope in the form of the product backlog, repriortize work by reordering PBIs, and communicate out to the team during the backlog grooming and sprint planning sessions. No need for a separate document/wiki detailing every change: The information resides in common place, accessible all of the time and to everyone.

Manage dependencies

You have to deal with dependencies related to one team member -- colocated or remote -- and/or separate teams. Agile tools can help teams identify such dependencies, plan them in the right order, and track them in an easy and visual manner. No need for Excel tracking, no surprises, no oversight, no communication gaps, and no dependencies falling through the gaps.

Centralize documentation

Every feature, story, and defect needs input from various people -- the product owner, architect, developer, and tester. Teams need documentation of story descriptions, conditions of acceptance, technical design inputs, use cases to be tested, and test cases. Agile tools can help teams consolidate and centralize all of these documents, keeping them readily accessible in real time, everywhere and by everyone.

Get real-time visibility

In the Agile world, stories and tasks get a bad rap as being means for managers to micromanage. But don't forget that your fellow team member needs to know the status of your work, and vice versa. If you have updated the tool to indicate that just one more day is left to complete a task, your QA counterpart knows it is the right time to plan his or her task/test accordingly. Keeping tools updated can streamline tracking and coordination.

Communicate effectively

Distributed teams are a standard operating procedure for many teams and organizations these days. Instead of relying on emails and spreadsheets as the means for sharing status, issues, and questions, use these tools. When checking on a defect fix, update the tool with your change list. When opening a defect, update the tool with steps to reproduce. Doesn't it sound simple and effective! Working out of tools daily can help reduce daily emails and facilitate collaboration.

Create customizable reports and dashboards

Agile tools provide a way to generate visual reports and customizable dashboards. These can show useful data points, such as team velocity trends, team and individual defect counts, team capacity, sprint burn-down, release burn-up, recent check-ins, alerts for different actions, and much more. No need to transfer data to Excel sheets and generate charts. It does sound useful, doesn't it. . . .

Plan, execute, manage change -- and be happy

Tools give us the ability to plan realistically regarding capacity and priority, to keep an eye out for unknowns, to resolve dependencies, to track to ensure that we are on target, and to communicate to stay in sync. I say this can provide good ground for us to be one successful, productive, and happy team!


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



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