Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cards Or Planning Tools?

In one of the newsgroups I monitor there was recently a discussion on Project Planning and Tracking Tools. I'd like to add another experience to this.

In a project for which I started coaching earlier last year, I introduced index cards for stories initially. People looked at it as something very "unprofessional". Paper and pen? How could that possibly work?

Well after a while the team decided that they wanted to introduce XPlanner. After yet a while some customers on the team decided that they were not exactly getting what they were asking for. As a consequence they started to put more details into the tool. Sometimes there were a lot of details even for how to lay out widgets on a screen and what colors to use. Screenshots of mock-ups were eventually added.

Yet another while later the team discovered that this didn't really help. Now the stories were very big and therefore hard to put into a short iteration. And the bigger they were the higher the likelyhood that they were underestimated. An extreme case was a story that was estimated at 47 units but which took 228 units in the end to implement. It actually consisted of a sequence of four stories.

It was clear to them that they had a problem. Now they have reverted back to using index cards. Writing or even drawing on an index card limits the amount of information you put on it. The team decided that the best and most important information on a card was the business value that the completed story tries to provide.

Having less details on the cards themselves has triggered more and better conversations or negotiations between the customer and the engineers. More options are discussed and it is much easier to move storie around. Estimation is better, and the geam gained more flexibility with regards to how to implement a story.

Bottom line: You might have an excellent justification to introduce a software based planning and tracking tool. But sometimes it is better to just go using simpler tools. If your team is co-located you certainly have more options, but even for distributed teams it is worthwhile to look for alternatives. Simple tools may lead to simpler and better solutions.

No comments:

Hostgator promo code