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A quick recap from part 1 (you can read the entire post here). This post aims at clarifying the role and responsibilities of a project owner with regards to projects requirements, which are not to be confused with user stories. The latter is in fact a representation of those requirements that intermediate the communication between business stakeholders and the development team.

With these premises, let’s go back to our initial goal: given a set of requirements capture in one or more meetings and interviews (well detailed in part 1), let’s make sure that your development team deliver exactly what your stakeholders ask for.

We have designed an ideal workflow to manage the complete lifecycle of your requirements.

1. Capture the real pain (aka do not believe your users’ first version)

The goal is to understand the real pain experienced by users which your project is aiming to solve and this can be achieved by, well, not believing what they say they want in first place. Business users will not be nearly pragmatic enough to define a requirement with all details, in most cases they will report a set of daily manual activities which lead to some general rule that has a plethora of exceptions. The most appreciated soft-skill of a good project owner and/or analyst is to understand where the real pain of your business stakeholders sit and to derive from that the real general requirement.

An example? The business user asks for a new form to manage all the expense of the company. The truth is that they are managing them already (most likely with a lot of manual labor) and they want to automate the approval process. Actually, they’d love a system that, once approved, let them forget of all that paperwork forever! The process and therefore the requirement are different from what the user initially asks for, so the result that is being asked of the team will also be different.

2. Explode users' requirements in stories

Your users' requirements are then broken into many functional blocks, often interdependent, through an amplification activity. The team breaks each requirement into many discrete and manageable user stories. At this stage, effort can probably not be evaluated in detailed metrics such as man-hours, yet a pretty well-spread alternative is to assign stories an index of complexity such as story points, pomodoros or some other arbitrary effort indicators. Herogami supports story points as well as pomodoros, but also color-coding and other user-definable attributes.

3. Translate stories into tasks for techies

This is the easy part. It's about getting your development team in the cafeteria or some meeting room and discussing the details of the implementation. Try not to dive too much into details, leave something for other rounds as well: Agile tactics include shared responsibility and each developer is responsible for its area, therefore you as a project manager can avoid the risk of falling into micro-management traps.

The goal of this phase is to derive, for each story, the tasks that developers need to complete. Having a clear set of tasks for your stories helps your developers understanding problems before they occur. It also helps to properly estimate the duration of activities, so as to avoid any form of guessing. Every story in Herogami has an internal kanban for tasks and they are super quick to enter.

4. Define effort estimates and contingencies from information or technical debt

With the tasks defined it is easy to indicate the effort required by the various stories. The sum of the effect, net of parallel activities, will provide a release date for the first test or the sprint review. Sounds simple, right?

The point is, most likely, that your requirement is not entirely complete, so you have to handle an information debt that will surely result in additional unplanned effort. Here are no rules, the sensitivity of each professional varies but the rule is to add a good 20-30% contingent effort to cover the risk. In Herogami you can enter effort in man-hours or pomodoros, and due dates for stories and issues are clearly displayed on the shared project calendar.

5. Run stories in one or more sprints keeping an eye on WIP limits

Stories can be put into work by relocating them from the backlog to the current sprint. Developers will move the cards while performing tasks, and Herogami will provide a proper project and sprint status through dashboards and burndown charts. This is a fantastic tool to understand the trend of the sprint and it is very complicated to handle it manually. Fortunately, Herogami updates the current sprint burndown chart whenever an activity is performed on a story or issue, in a completely automatic and transparent way. Make sure you configure Herogami’s WIP limit at every step of your workflow to avoid overloading your developers. 

We’ll see two more points in the upcoming part three of this post and drive some conclusions on effective strategies to manage your business requirements and user stories with Herogami. Stay tuned!

 

30 July 2017 Read more

WIP stands for Work In Progress aka work that has entered the development process but is not yet finished and available to a customer or user.

Whether or not your workflow management tools include a kanban board with a workflow process via an actual low-tech office wall or having digital agile software board like the ones in Herogami, you want to avoid having too much WIP on your team.

As a project owner or scrum master, if you allocate or allow too much WIP in a sprint, you may create too much waste or risk in the form of lagging partially completed work, or excessive waiting. Furthermore, excessive WIP will also cause blockages in your project due to obscure and hidden activities which will arise totally unplanned.

Different teams may adopt tailored workflows that provide different workstations. All workflows have one trait in common: work states are progressive. There is always an initial state, a final state, and a series of intermediate states that measure the progress of activities at a scale ranging from one team to another.

To exemplify here are a couple of workflow examples at the extremes of what we usually see in Agile teams.

First example (don't laugh, we've seen it happening):

New → Open → In Progress → Code Review → Code Committed → QA Ready → QA In Progress → QA Passed [or] QA Failed → UAT Ready → UAT In Progress → UAT Passed [or] UAT Failed → Closed/Done

We see the above actually happening in many teams: a complex workflow is one the first symptoms of organizations adopting Agile whithout being trained on the fact that any major change in their internal processes should aim at keeping things simple, actually to the very bare minimum. This is a very basic rule of change management in organizations of any size, yet it is outside the scope of this post, we will definitely reserve a post on this in the future.

A more simplified (and possibly recommended) view of this workflow process would look like this:

To Do → Doing → Done

Of course the latter workflow may not be the best workflow either, most likely it is too simplistic and may not reflect the actual status of the activities a task, a story or an issue is going through. Say, for instance, that an issue needs validation before being considered completed or “done”. In this case, the perfect workflow looks like:

To Do → Doing → Testing → Done

The above is what you actually find a the default workflow in every new project in Herogami. Of course in Herogami this can be totally customized on your needs by editing stories and issues workflow, even on a project basis.

In either workflow solution, it is in everyone’s best interest to protect the project success by limiting the number or items being processed at every step of the workflow: you want place WIP limits.

Before your sprint starts, you must be able to determine - based on the story points and team size - what the typical limits should be as per the agile team roles and team members.

These can then be calculated and factored to represent the overall WIP limits for your board to prevent too much clutter. However as you can guess, the comprehensive example above or any type similar to it, would be the most difficult one to set limits to, since the stories would be scattered everywhere across multiple statuses.

Like any complex procedure, it is best to break it down into smaller parts. A simplified board should be used as your dashboard view to get a consistently general view of progress.  Once you’ve scaled down your board as much as possible the WIP limits will become easier to manage. A notable mention is the status “Blocked” which can be shown with a more specific indication of which workflow the block occurrence came from, i.e. Blocked in Dev, Blocked in QA, or Blocked in UAT. This will further allow for a quick response to the blockages.

The example given above assumes workflow management processes are happening simultaneously, but it would certainly be more appropriate to create some workflows in later sprints or specific milestone date if you knew, for example, that UAT was coming at a much later time. The key is to keep it simple.

29 July 2017 Read more

In July 2017 the free trial duration period for Herogami will change from three months to 30 days.

We are making this change because our data shows that a 90 days trial period is unnecessarily long. Most users either subscribe on day 1 of the trial or they subscribe a few days after the trial period has ended when they are prompted to subscribe when attempting to log in.

If you feel need more than 30 days to try out Herogami, or if you have any other questions regarding the trial period or all available upgrade options, please do not hesitate to write to our customer service team at support@venticentistudio.it and request an extension of your trial period.

We're happy to recap all relevant details on how Herogami subscriptions work.

You initially subscribe to Herogami with a free plan, so that it's easy for you to try our the app and check if it fits your team and workflow. The free plan provides a basic number of users and projects, it is a trial plan Herogami provides with no obligations whatsoever.
Once you're ready to jump in and bang hard on your projects, just upgrade from within the app, there's upgrade buttons more or less... everywhere :-)

Paid subscription plans are designed around two concepts: the size of your team and the number of projects you manage. Remember that advertised prices do apply to entire teams and not single team members.

When you spend say 99 Euros on a plan that covers you up to 100 users, you're basically spending less then 1 (one!) Euro per team member per month.

We are able to provide these highly convenient pricing scheme thanks to a massively scalable and elastic infrastructure running on very efficient code that optimizes both CPUs usage as well as data storage.

Thanks to its ease of use and perfect balance in terms of smart features and sheer power, during the new 30-days trial your team will soon gain the right confidence to move a consistent part of their workflow on Herogami. Enjoy!

22 July 2017 Read more

Software projects fail for a number of countless factors. One of these is that requirements are incorrectly captured, not fully expressed, shared and understood by all actors involved in the project.

In this post, we review an ideal set of best practices to manage your requirements, expand them in user stories and make sure that every member of your team fully understands them.

Requirements are usually captured in work sessions where all project participants (or in less fortunate cases only key figures) gather in a meeting room with a large whiteboard, a few chairs and countless post-its.

From such meetings, you can generally expect a positive outcome: the overall requirements are first discussed and then dissected. Most likely, after a few hours, everyone leaving the room feels like the meeting was great and everyone is convinced just had a great start, paving the road to success.

The truth is that this meeting is simply the first step of a long series which, most often than not, will not end as expected. Let's see why.

Problem #1 is that, following the meeting, all requirements get transcribed in some long document that no one will really read carefully. The document will be too long and too bureaucratic. It will be plagued by version numbers, indexes and blank, unused spaces. Even worse, it won’t have pictures in it, it won’t be visual enough!

Often the definition of the requirement is in fact tasked to the project owner that being a managerial role may not have the graphics skills to represent an effective synthesis of the solution in a few key images. Most likely a wireframe will also lack.

The project owner therefore issues a super-verbose document where the requirement becomes a classy topic that no one will really read carefully. Or rather, if business users may also have the maturity to do so, the weak link reveals itself to the development team that somehow looks superficial to the written requirements, interprets them quickly, and puts the code on the job.

Problem #2 is that project owners rarely consider the opportunity to collect feedback from project actors in a proactive way, often relying on silence-consent: me the project owner I have sent you a beefy requirements document and since I cannot baby-sit you for you comments, if you do not send me a response within a number of days, I will just consider that the formulation of the requirement is accepted. And that's a big mistake.

Requirements, once transcribed, should be presented in a highly visual document, with images and diagrams and approval from all team members should be actively seek'd out.

The trick to effectively invite people to read your documents and provide feedback is to forget conventional approaches and write your specifications like you were writing a software manual. To do this you can use Herogami's wiki, we'll see that soon in part 2 of this long post.

16 July 2017 Read more

On Saturday, June 17, 2017 the new Herogami got pushed to cloud servers This update is not a simple facelift but rather a deep refinement of the application and service to get even closer to the initial design and intent of Herogami. 

Herogami is a project management platform dedicated to software developers. Its philosophy has always been to provide the set of features that make sense in the everyday life of a software development team and to support developers first, the actual folks that implement the d***n thing and not necessarily the managerial bean-counting side of the process. This translates into features that make sense to those who do the job and into tools that never get in the way with far-too-intricate configurations and fixed workflows.

A quick recap of what you'll will find in this release.

The Herogami application gets a complete redesign to increase the visibility of the essential UI elements and increase overall clarity. Less fuss and less frills. More emphasis on the important elements of the user interface like its menus and its commands. Defer to content is the guiding principle and content therefore gets all the space it deserves.

The new burndown chart in the project dashboard reports the trend of the current sprint. Both for stories and issues. We have worked to ensure quick access to the definition of sprint duration, which you can edit directly from the burndown chart.

New dashboard for the current sprint and your backlog. The dashboard highlight and summarize the trend of activities in the current sprint and the composition of the backlog, with particular regards to project priorities. Both dashboards include numerous graphic elements for immediate understanding of the progress of your projects.

New calendar widget in the project dashboard. The new widget highlights the beginning and end of stories and issues, as well as the start and end of sprints and other scheduled events.

Numerous bug fixes and general system performance enhancements. Each release is a very important opportunity to improve the quality of the software and even on this occasion we have not missed the option of making improvements.

The Tasks section is removed. Most of our users requested that Herogami adheres to Agile practices where stories and issues capture planned activities in projects, making other entities such as tasks or to-do's basically irrelevant. Hence the removal. Please contact customer service to get the link to the section and migrate Task in Stories or Issues, accordingly.

We look forward to know what our users think of the new update. Do you like what you see? Please let un know your thoughts by dropping a line at support@venticentostudio.it.

17 June 2017 Read more

A few hours left before Herogami gets the planned update we've been worked on for months. Tweets and alerts have been posted so that you, customers, partners and friends, get all your stuff in order before we actually pull the trigger of the many update scripts. Ok there's going to be a few minutes of downtime and speaking of update scripts, actually we're talking lots and lots of scripts here, since the Herogami infrastructure is nothing short of a candyland of servers and contemporary cloud services!

For your convenience here's a a quick recap on what's coming. Nothing new if you've followed the blog and announcements posted inside Herogami but we thought it'd be cool to make sure you are aligned.

New public website, reflecting our commitment to the software development community and the joy of writing software. It's gonna celebrate an act of creation and having fun doing it with others through Agile collaboration.

New layout of the Herogami application that clears out the workspace and truly introduces a new design principle: defer to content. Which translates into focusing on the essential and hide the frills.

Revised project dashboard and a dedicated dashboard to the current sprint which includes the burndown and more charts. All dashboards in fact include numerous graphic elements for immediate understanding of the progress of your projects.

New calendar widget in the project dashboard. The new widget highlights the beginning and end of stories and issues, as well as the start and end of sprints and other scheduled events.

Bug fixes and general system performance enhancements. Releasing software is an opportunity to improve it. We did not miss on that.

We simplified the application by removing the Tasks Section to better adhere to Agile practices. If you're used to Tasks please note that the section will still be available although hidden, contact customer service to get the link to the section and migrate Task in Stories or Issues, accordingly.

See you soon on the new, updated Herogami. Pssss: every version of Herogami has a codename which is either funny, clever or both and will be revealed in the next post, with the new Herogami up and running  :-)

16 June 2017 Read more

Friday, June 16, 2017 we plan to release an important update of Herogami.

Herogami's public site gets a major facelift. Herogami is a platform dedicated to software developers. Software professionals are a weird species: we take pleasure in our work and enjoy playing with complex architectures and conceptual problems. The new public website celebrates the craft and the importance of doing great work together.

The Herogami application gets a complete redesign to increase the visibility of the essential UI elements and increase overall clarity. Less fuss and less frills. More emphasis on the important elements of the user interface like its menus and its commands. Defer to content is the guiding principle and content therefore gets all the space it deserves.

The new burndown chart in the project dashboard reports the trend of the current sprint. Both for stories and issues. We have worked to ensure quick access to the definition of sprint duration, which you can edit directly from the burndown chart.

New dashboard for the current sprint and your backlog. The dashboard highlight and summarize the trend of activities in the current sprint and the composition of the backlog, with particular regards to project priorities. Both dashboards include numerous graphic elements for immediate understanding of the progress of your projects.

New calendar widget in the project dashboard. The new widget highlights the beginning and end of stories and issues, as well as the start and end of sprints and other scheduled events.

Numerous bug fixes and general system performance enhancements. Each release is a very important opportunity to improve the quality of the software and even on this occasion we have not missed the option of making improvements.

The Tasks section is removed. Most of our users requested that Herogami adheres to Agile practices where stories and issues capture planned activities in projects, making other entities such as tasks or to-do's basically irrelevant. Hence the removal. We don't miss them but for customers that we're used to Tasks, the section will still be available although hidden: please contact customer service to get the link to the section and migrate Task in Stories or Issues, accordingly.

In the latest months, our team has performed all the tests required to avoid regressions and ensure a quick and smooth transition to the new platform. We look forward to knowing what Herogami users think.

Stay tuned for important updates, then, in the next couple of days. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we are already doing. Herogami has always been faithful to the vision of providing powerful yet very easy to use software that does not require complex configuration and administration tasks like many of competing products.

Herogami's guiding design principle is there's no time to read he f***ing manual. We have made every effort to guarantee our customers that Herogami reflects this vision in the next coming update and in the years to come.

14 June 2017 Read more