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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

The Kanban Story: Initial Methodology

You already know how our team looked like and what concerns I had with implementing plain old Scrum. You also know we chose “take this from here and take that from there” kind of approach to running our projects. Our base method was Scrum but we were far, far away from accepting it the orthodox way.

What we finally agreed on within the team can be described in several rules:

1. Planning
For each application at the beginning we were deciding what we want to see there in the next version. We were trying to limit a number of features but didn’t set any limits how long development should take. The longest cycle was something between three and four weeks.

2. Requirements
When we’d known what we wanted to do we were creating user stories and non-functional requirements. Each session took whole team, even when someone wasn’t going to develop that specific application. As it usually happens the scope was being changed as we discussed different aspects of planned work. We were adding (more often) or cutting off (less often) features. We were building a coarse-grained architecture as we discussed non-functional requirements. At the end of the day we had a whiteboard full of stories which were a starting point for development.

3. Tasks
Since user stories were rather big we were splitting them to smaller pieces – development tasks. This was changing view from feature-wise to code-wise. Development tasks were intended as small pieces of work (possibly not bigger than 16-hour long) which were a complete wholes from a developer’s point of view. Ideally a single user story should have several tasks connected to it and single development task should be connected with only one user story or non-functional requirement. It wasn’t a strict rule however and sometimes we had many-to-many relation since specific changes in architecture (single development task) were affecting many usage scenarios (many user stories). Development tasks should make as much sense as possible for developers so they were defined by developers themselves and by those who were going to do the job. Tasks were stored in a system which was used company-wide.

4. Estimation
At the very beginning we had no strict deadlines but we were estimating anyway. There were two goals: learn to estimate better when there aren’t huge consequences for being wrong and getting into a habit of estimating all of planned work. Our estimates were done against developer tasks, not user stories. The main reason why we went this way was that tasks were smaller so estimates naturally were better than they would be if we did them against user stories. A specific, pretty non-agile, thing we were doing with estimation was a rule of estimating each task by a developer who would be doing it. More on this in one of future posts.

5. Measuring progress and work done
Current progress could be verified by checking actual state of tasks connected with a specific app. Nothing fancy here. The thing which was important here was writing down how much time it took to complete the task. When completed each task had two values – estimated time needed to complete the task and time it really took to do it. At the end of the day we knew how much our estimates were flawed. The important thing here was official announcement that no one is going to be punished in any way for poor estimates.

That was pretty much all. No stand-ups since we were all sitting in one room and we discussed issues and work progress whenever someone felt like it. No Scrum Master since, well, we weren’t doing sprints and within specific project things were rather self-organized. A kind of Product Owner emerged, impersonated by me, as we needed a connector between constantly changing business environment and the team working on different projects. You could say we needed one to bring some chaos to our work which would be equally true.

We were going to build a few small projects that way. At the same time we were prepared to improve the way we create our software as soon as notice flaws and find a way to fix them.

Keep an eye on the whole Kanban Story.

in: kanban

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