Managing Agile, Poly-skilled Teams with Intermediate Milestones

During the myGRcitypoints project we used a backlog that integrated design and development tasks.

To minimize rework, we strived to complete design and markup tasks before writing the related code.

We thought an integrated backlog would allow for better collaboration and task sharing between team members (especially on IA, IxD or markup tasks that can be more easily shared between team member from design or programming backgrounds).

During the first 11 week phase of the project we did an acceptable job of meeting our team management goals. The phase was completed on time and on budget.

Despite doing an acceptable job, we found areas for improvement:

  • Design could become a bottleneck and programmers would code ahead of design.
  • It was difficult to know when team members should offer support on IA, IxD or markup tasks.
  • Scope management happened late in the project at iterations 7 and 10.

I suspected that, over a multi-month project, our backlog management and burn chart practices were not sufficiently influencing decisions that needed to be made on a daily or weekly basis.

I thought that bringing visibility to intermediate milestones would support the goals we had for using an integrated backlog.

For the second phase of the project we decided to better indicate intermediate goals by charting activity cards from our story map over the set of team task types.

Kanban chart of story map activities

We used a convention to identify tasks types that matched our backlog task markers:

  • X: Information Architecture and Interaction Design
  • V: Visual Design
  • M: CSS & HTML Markup
  • C: General Code
  • T: Exploratory Testing

The Kanban chart helped:

  • Keep the team disciplined about finishing design for an activity before starting code.
  • Prompted coders to help with IA, IxD and markup tasks if visual design was a bottleneck.
  • Manage scope early and more frequently.

We prioritized our work on the Kanban chart and organized our backlog in the same order. Each activity card on the Kanban chart was related to many design and code tasks in our backlog.

We also staged iterations in our task management tool rather than keeping a large amount of tasks in the backlog. The staged tasks allowed us to better feel the incentive of accomplishing many intermediate milestones.

The Kanban chart helped bring more visibility to our intermediate goals. No matter how intermediate milestones are reported, I think they bring positive effects to projects.