Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Keeping agile transparent, part of Agile at Work: Reporting with Agile Charts and Boards.
- When I was much younger, I remember a field trip to a local art museum. There I saw a style of painting that left a lasting impression on me. It's called pointillism. These paintings are impressionistic and use small dots of color to create a larger work. Really, it's an early form of dot matrix printing. When I stood close to the painting, it looked like scattered dots of color. When I took a step back, the larger image would appear. What I liked about these paintings is that they were mysterious.
If I stayed too close, they would hide. They would only appear as I stood further away. As a project manager, you can run into similar mysteries. Each of your reports communicates some color of truth. Maybe your Gantt chart is saying that you'll miss a milestone. Maybe your budget has a small variance. Each of these reports is like a little point of color, they tell you one small thing, they're not designed to communicate the big picture. For that, you have to step back and look at all the reports together.
Only then will you see the whole project. Often, there are many reports that say the same thing. Some will be out-of-date, some will be confusing or incomplete. The closer you look, the less you see about the health of the project. Agile takes a different approach. Instead of numbers and variances, Agile communicates large truths with simple images. This is commonly called a team's transparency. Are they going too fast or slow? Will they meet or miss the deadline? How much work is left in the sprint? Whether the truth is good or bad, it should always be displayed front and center.
Anyone with some knowledge of Agile should be able to walk up to report and see how the team is performing. Transparency is easier said than done. Teams usually celebrate success, they'll post completed milestones and accomplishments. It's far more difficult to be transparent above problems. They may not show if the team's behind schedule or not finishing work. Agile charts help the rest of the organization figure out if the team is being too optimistic. The product owner can then step back and change the priority or eliminate the work.
The reports in transparency are the foundation of trust between the team and the product owner. All the reports in Agile should share two common traits. They should be simple and visible. This keeps the project open to many participants. It helps create good feedback loops between the team and the customer. One of the most common charts is the team's burndown chart. This is a simple line graph that shows if the project is on track to deliver. Burndown charts are usually displayed in the shared workspace.
They are information radiators. Instead of giving off heat, they give off information. The team can have a burndown chart for each sprint or for the entire release. Another common report is the team's task board. The task board is a simple information radiator that displays the user stories and tasks on a board or wall. Even someone who doesn't know anything about Agile can see how the work is moving. Any manager can peek in and see the team's progress.
Too many sticky notes in the to do column could be a red flag. This is especially true on the last day of the sprint. One of the most important reports is the product backlog. This is a simple list of user stories ranked by value. The top of the list has the highest value user stories. The product owner should be able to use the backlog in most of their meetings. This report will show the product owner's view of the highest priority work. It will be a simple display from top to bottom.
With Agile reports, there shouldn't be any mystery. There are no little bits of information that come together in the end. Instead, Agile reports are simple, visible, open and transparent. They might not have the beauty of an impressionist painting but they'll give you a much better picture of the whole project.
Bonus: Watch the bonus chapter at the end of this course where Doug answers common questions about the agile mindset, including what types of projects would be the best fit.
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- Communicating progress
- Prioritizing the backlog
- Showing daily progress with a taskboard
- Sizing taskboards
- Creating a burndown chart